ST. PAUL — The second-degree felony sexual assault conviction of former Virginia School Board member Donovan Strong has been overturned by a three-judge appellate court panel.
The ruling stems from a July, 2, 2011, incident at a beach on Lake Vermilion involving a girl who was 12 years old at the time. Strong was part of a group of family and friends celebrating the Fourth of July weekend.
The appeals court did uphold his conviction on a charge of solicitation of a child for sexual conduct. However, that charge had been dismissed by the District Court in Virginia because it was associated with the same behavioral incident. The ruling sent that charge back to District Court and Judge Gary Pagliaccetti for further consideration.
A call to the prosecutor in the case, Todd Webb of the Itasca County Attorney’s Office, for comment Tuesday afternoon was not returned.
The jury’s guilty verdict against Strong was handed down on Oct. 26, 2011. He was acquitted of first-degree sexual conduct. Strong was immediately taken into custody in the courtroom after the verdict was read.
He was sentenced in late-December of the same year to one year at the Northeast Regional Correction Center in Duluth — with a minimum of nine months served. In addition, he was given a stayed prison term of 36 months, which means it was suspended as long as he met conditions of parole, and 15 years of probation. Strong was also given credit for 61 days of time served.
It was at sentencing where the solicitation charge was dismissed.
Strong’s appeal centered around the interpretation of “immediate area,” regarding a bow-string on the girl’s bikini bottom that, according to the facts in the court ruling, Strong touched and grasped to pull the bikini bottom down about one-half of an inch.
“We conclude that contact with clothing approximately one-half of an inch below the normal waistline of a bikini bottom is not sufficiently close to the primary genital area so as to be within the ‘immediate area’ of this intimate part.
“...Accordingly, we reverse Strong’s conviction of second-degree criminal sexual conduct,” the ruling reads.