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Jury finds Grand Forks man guilty of sexual abuse

GRAND FORKS -- A jury on Friday found Justin Yarbro guilty of sexually abusing his stepdaughter when she was 6 and 7.

Yarbro, 32, of Grand Forks, showed no obvious reaction to the verdict, maintaining the quiet demeanor he has had throughout the four-day trial.

He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole for the felony. State District Judge Debbie Kleven scheduled sentencing for July 17.

Yarbro's father and mother and other family members waited to visit with him briefly after the verdict.

The victim's mother, Nickole, sat with family members on the other side of the courtroom. After the jury left, she hugged her grandfather. Now using another last name after divorcing Yarbro last year, Nickole declined to comment.

The girl's biological father also listened to the verdict but declined to comment.

The victim, now 8, testified, as did her mother and Yarbro.

After three days of testimony and closing arguments Friday, jurors began deliberating just after 11:30 a.m. and told court officials about 5:30 p.m. that they had reached a unanimous verdict.

Several experienced court-watchers and court officers agreed the jury of six men and six women was relatively young, with nearly all of them appearing to be 30 to 50.

One court official said one-third of the original panel of 64 juror candidates indicated they had a personal connection of some kind to child sexual abuse, which made jury selection more complicated.

Yarbro's attorney, Kerry Rosenquist, said he will review the trial transcripts and consult with Yarbro and his family about a possible appeal.

"It was a tough case," Rosenquist said. "When it takes the jury this long, I'm satisfied this jury considered all the evidence."

Meredith Larson and Jason McCarthy, assistant state's attorneys for Grand Forks County, prosecuted Yarbro.

Larson said the important issue was resolved: a child victim of sexual assault got justice.

The girl testified earlier this week that Yarbro, who she still called "Dad," had sexually abused her in several ways from April 2010, when she was 6, until Oct. 12, 2011. That's when her mother first confronted Yarbro, the mother testified.

Yarbro testified Thursday, denying the charges and saying Nickole framed him because he was going to divorce her and not share a financial settlement due him from a car accident.

Rosenquist, in his closing, argued that the girl's mother, herself a victim of sexual abuse as a child "at the hands of her stepfather," fed her daughter stories to tell.