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Hettinger County molestation trial continued

Russell Lee Pearson

MOTT -- A judge decided Thursday during a hearing at the Hettinger County Courthouse to allow a New England man accused of molestation to reapply for a court-appointed attorney.

Russell Lee Pearson, 52, faces three Class AA felonies for allegedly having several types of sexual contact with a young boy in New England in October, according to his criminal complaint.

Judge William Herauf said Pearson's first application showed he had too much income for a court-appointed attorney.

"I just don't have the money," Pearson said. "I'm unemployed now."

Herauf wanted to go through with the preliminary hearing scheduled Thursday, but Hettinger County State's Attorney James Gion wanted it postponed.

"Taking into consideration that these are charged as AA felonies, which is the most serious crime in the state of North Dakota as far as punishment, the state would be very uneasy to proceed without having Mr. Pearson with counsel," Gion said.

If Pearson would make a mistake in court or mistakenly waive a right, they could have to redo hearings, Gion said.

Herauf ordered the preliminary hearing to be rescheduled.

"There will be no further continuances," he said. "We need to get this thing moving through the system."

After the hearing, Gion said the victim, who is not related to Pearson, is younger than a teenager.

Gion said Pearson doesn't have a criminal background in North Dakota, but resided in Nevada at one time.

"I haven't heard from law enforcement whether they had any hits in any other jurisdiction," he said.

Pearson is being held at the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center in Dickinson on a $300,000 bond. He is also not allowed to contact the victim or the victim's family and must stay 100 feet away from them, according to court records.

If he is found guilty, Pearson could face a maximum punishment of life in prison without parole for each gross sexual imposition count.

Pearson declined comment after the hearing.