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2 men accused of sexual contact with children in court

Two men accused of having sexual contact with children in unrelated cases appeared at the Stark County Courthouse Tuesday for pretrial conferences.

Russell Pearson, born in 1958, New England, is charged with three counts of Class AA felony gross sexual imposition after he allegedly had sexual interaction with a child younger than age 15.

Clayton Hopper, 32, Dickinson, is charged with one count of Class AA felony gross sexual imposition and three counts of Class A felony gross sexual imposition, after he allegedly had sexual interaction with a child younger than age 15.

Pearson was back in court after two prior plea agreements did not go through.

"It looks like we're back at square one," Judge Zane Anderson said.

Since a plea agreement was not reached, Anderson said Pearson's 12-member jury trial will be begin Oct. 17 in Hettinger County and run at least three days.

Hettinger County State's Attorney James Gion said there is a chance that the case could go longer.

Attorney Kelly Armstrong, who was in court on behalf of the minor victim, asked that the court be closed to the public when the victim is called to testify. He also requested that only one appointed family member, other than the child's mother who is a witness, be present in the courtroom during the child's testimony.

Anderson said the only issue he had with the request was that it will be an open trial.

Neither attorney objected to the request in court, but Anderson asked Armstrong to file a written motion with the court by the end of the day today, so it can be part of the record.

If Gion or Pearson's attorney, Kevin McCabe, decided that they want to respond to the motion, Anderson requested that they file their responses by noon Friday.

Anderson also said he would have to address the issue of whether or not to play an interview with the child in open court.

As for jury selection, Gion suggested that a pool of at least 55 people.

"Hettinger County is a small county, and there is some concern that people may know something or be related to the victim in the case," he said, regarding possible issues that may come up during jury selection.

Pearson faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on each of the Class AA felony charges.

In the case of Hopper, Assistant Stark County State's Attorney James Hope told Anderson that he has a plea offer he planned to send Hopper as soon as possible, so he can review it with his attorney.

Hope did not go over the plea agreement in court since the defendant and his attorney had not reviewed the offer yet.

Anderson approved Hope's request for the case to be continued for two cycles and that Hopper be required to appear back in court in six weeks for a pretrial conference.

Hopper faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the once count of Class AA felony and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each of the Class A felony charges against him.

In other court news

The one count of Class A misdemeanor depriving an animal of necessary food or water against Christopher Dschaak, Dickinson, was ordered by Anderson to be consolidated with the case against Karilynn Neulman, whom the criminal complaint names as a co-defendant.

Hope thought that a plea agreement was reached and that the case would be dismissed, but Dschaak's attorney, Thomas Murtha, said his client did not agree to the terms that he would have to release ownership of the animal.

Dschaak and Neulman are accused of neglecting a husky breed dog and depriving it of necessary food and water, according to the complaint. The dog was evaluated by two veterinarians and determined to be emaciated, according to the complaint.

Anderson ordered Dschaak to appear Oct. 9 in front of Judge William Herauf for a pretrial conference.