STURGEON BAY, Wis.—Former Franklin College president Thomas Minar’s court battle over alleged child sex crimes was again delayed Monday.
Minar, 57, appeared virtually before Door County District Court Judge David Weber with attorneys Brett Reetz and Mark Maciolek. Reetz asked Weber for more time to conduct a forensic analysis in building a defense for Minar, a process Reetz said could take another 60 days.
While Weber granted more time, Nick Grode, the assistant district attorney for Door County, reminded Reetz and Minar the plea deal prosecutors first offered in October is set to expire Friday. District Attorney Colleen Nordin has not provided details about the plea bargain, and it remains unclear if Minar will accept.
“I understand that they put those deadlines on, but we are working diligently in terms of the forensics,” Reetz said at the hearing. “We’re not imposing any additional burden on the state.”
Reetz declined to comment further Monday but said at a previous hearing Minar maintains his innocence.
Minar pleaded not guilty to the charges at his last hearing in October. Franklin College fired him in January 2020 after learning of his arrest, shown by police dash cam footage here, when he traveled to meet with a person he believed to be a 15-year-old child at a Sturgeon Bay McDonald’s.
The former president is charged with 12 counts of possession of child pornography, using a computer to facilitate a sex crime and exposing a child to harmful narrations. All are felony crimes in Wisconsin.
The initial charges—using a computer to facilitate a sex crime and exposing a child to harmful narrations—stem from Minar talking with an undercover officer on the dating app Grindr. The officer created a persona, Tyler, that identified himself as a 15-year-old child while chatting with Minar, though Tyler’s bio on the app listed his age as 19.
Court documents show a sexually charged conversation between the former president and Tyler. But in an interrogation video made public since his arrest, Minar said he intended to mentor Tyler, not have sex with him. The interrogation video is available in two segments, with part one here and part two here.
“It became clear it was a high school student when he said he was a high school student,” Minar said to an officer in the interview. “But when it started, I presumed he was over 18 years old.”
The 12 charges of child pornography possession were added to Minar’s case in March after police searched his personal cell phone, revealing graphic photos and videos of children engaged in sex acts. Each charge is a Class D felony in Wisconsin and carries a maximum sentence of 25 years’ jail time.
Nordin said in October that Minar has no chance of probation because of a minimum three-year prison sentence required for child pornography charges.
Fran Watson, a professor at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law specializing in criminal defense and forensic science, said Minar’s defense team is likely using the forensic analysis to double-check claims from the prosecution. For example, Watson said they may argue innocence if the illegal files weren’t opened or viewed.
“Are you guilty if you didn’t open it?” Watson said. “A good lawyer wants to cover all the bases before accepting a deal.”
Minar provided the passcode to his personal cell phone to an officer during the interview after his arrest. The officer then asked if investigators would find explicit material involving underage children—including search terms, photos, videos and more.
“It’s conceivable but unlikely,” Minar said after a pause. He explained anything on his phone of that nature would have appeared there without his knowledge. He admitted to watching pornography on the popular website Pornhub but denied visiting other websites.
If Minar chooses not to accept the plea bargain and the case moves forward, Nordin said it could be more than a year before a trial because of backlogs caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minar will appear in court again for a status hearing at 10 a.m. CST March 3.
This article also appeared on TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.