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Watson enters Alford plea to sexual abuse charges in Stark, Hettinger counties

James G. Watson

The former LaMoure police chief accused of continuously sexually abusing a child under the age of 15 in multiple southwest North Dakota counties entered an Alford plea to multiple sexual abuse charges at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson on Tuesday morning, March 13.

James G. Watson, 52 of LaMoure, was originally charged with three counts of gross sexual imposition in Hettinger County, two of which were dismissed in October, and one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child in Stark County. As well as one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child in Golden Valley County.

However, on Tuesday, as a part of a plea agreement, Watson pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault, a Class C felony, in Hettinger County. He also pleaded guilty to one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child, a Class AA felony, in Stark County. The pleas were entered through an Alford plea, which means Watson maintains his innocence but recognizes that the state has enough evidence for a potential conviction at trial.

Tom Henning, Stark County state's attorney, told Southwest District Judge William Herauf that he believed the state had enough evidence to "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" what was in the criminal information.

According to court documents filed in Stark County, the alleged offenses occurred on a weekly basis from fall 2011 through April 2013 and that during that time Watson allegedly "willfully engaged in any combination of three or more sexual acts or sexual contacts with a minor who was under the age of 15 during a time period of three or more months."

Court documents in Hettinger County claimed similar acts with the victim allegedly occurred from April 2013 to December 2014 when the victim was between the ages of 15 and 18 years old.

Last month, a Golden Valley County jury found Watson guilty of Class AA felony continuous sexual abuse of a child from the fall of 2011 and January 2012.

During that trial, which lasted four days in Beach, N.D., the jury heard testimony from the victim, a special agent with the North Dakota Bureau of Investigations, Watson's wife and others. Watson also testified during the trial and denied the allegations made against him, saying that he never sexually abused the victim in any way, shape or form.

The Press typically does not identify accusers or victims in sexual assault cases.

Watson's attorney, Kevin McCabe, indicated that the presentence investigations for the three counties should be combined in order to have one date for a sentencing hearing, which will be held at a later time.

A Class C felony faces up to five years, a fine of $10,000, or both. A Class AA felony faces up to life in prison without parole.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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