The Scott County Attorney’s Office has dropped all charges against a 27-year-old Excelsior man accused of raping a 20-year-old woman near the SCALE facility in Jordan in August 2018 after DNA retesting found samples had been mixed up.
Assistant County Attorney Debra Lund last weekasked a district judge to dismiss four counts of first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a dangerous weapon and through force charges against Austin Jeffrey Jones “in the interests of justice.”
DNA samples from him and the alleged victim’s belt didn’t match after more testing, she said. A jury trial on the case was set to start on Monday, Dec. 2.
On Tuesday, Jones was transferred to the Carver County Jail where is he being held for violating his predatory offender registration requirements. In 2012, Jones was convicted of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for the statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl in December 2010, when he was 18 years old.
Jones had been held in the Scott County Jail since 2018. A May grand jury indictment had added the possibility that Jones could have been sentenced to life without parole if convicted.
“This is a young kid, and he’d be going away for the rest of his life with no possibility of release,” Jones’ attorney, Robert Sicoli said. “It’s sort of an attorney’s worst nightmare.”
Sicoli said he recently hired forensic anthropologist Krista Latham to evaluate the DNA evidence, after which Latham found the mismatch. Sicoli said Latham concluded that the results had likely been mislabeled.
Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said his office turned to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for retesting when the defense raised questions.
“It came back to the fact that we did not have the DNA evidence that we thought we had initially,” Hocevar said, adding Jones was immediately released.
In a prepared statement the BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira wrote that the agency became aware “during a standard review of this case” and “immediately notified the prosecutor.”
“The BCA began a corrective action review process immediately once the error was discovered,” Oliveira wrote. “The scientist involved has been reassigned until the review is completed. We will continue to work on this case with the sheriff’s office to analyze evidence so that justice is served both for the victim and her assailant.”
The county attorney said his office has never had an issue with crossed sample results before.
“Science is great, obviously, but it’s also subject to human error,” Sicoli said.
On August 7, 2018, police responded to a report of an assault at the SCALE facility near Jordan. When they arrived, they heard cries for help and coughing coming from a swampy area near the building and found the woman lying on a blanket on the ground with a belt around her neck, nearly naked and covered in grass, dirt and weeds, according to charging documents.
About five hours later, Jones was found slumped over in his parked pickup by Mdewakaton Public Safety personnel about a mile north of the SCALE facility. He fled the scene and was found later in Sand Creek Township by police.
Officers learned he was required to register as a predatory offender. At the time, Jones was homeless and not in compliance with his Carver County registration requirements.
Police arrested the man and collected DNA samples from his clothing and the victim. The first tests of these samples did not reveal a match, and Jones was released, but he went back in jail after a second round of testing seemed to find a match.
During his arrest, Jones told his father that he hadn’t left his vehicle except to buy some food from a Holiday gas station in Plymouth.
Hocevar said Jones’ release before conviction was a sign of the justice system’s strength. His office will continue to investigate any remaining leads on the case, though he said he didn’t believe there was any danger to public safety.