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Dickinson man changes plea in gross sexual imposition case days before trial

Chon Tackett faces life in prison, without the possibility of parole for sex crimes with a minor under the age of 15. The jury trial was marred with delay after delay amid the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, and only days before the case was scheduled to take place, Tackett changed his plea in a hearing on July 15, 2021.

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Stark County District Court suspended jury trials in November of 2020, due to the high rising number of COVID-19 cases. (Press File Photo)

“I didn't do these crimes. I don't think it's fair to keep me in here, especially on such trumped up charges," said an angry Chon Tackett, 39, of Dickinson, during his initial appearance in court in December of 2019. Tackett was arrested that year on four counts of gross sexual imposition and terrorizing.

582 days later, after a series of delays brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, a somber and muted Tackett again appeared in Southwest Judicial District Court wearing a medical mask and dressed in orange. Under the guidance of counsel, public defender Markus A. Powell, Tackett entered Alford pleas to three of the initial five charges.

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Chon E. Tackett (photo courtesy of Southwest MultiCounty Correction Center)

An Alford plea is an acknowledgement by the defendant that there is sufficient facts and evidence which would allow a jury to find that he was guilty of the crimes charged, and is used for purposes of sentencing and probation, while treated by the courts in the same legal standing as a guilty plea.

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In court, before District Court Judge James D. Gion, Tackett affirmed the courts’ questions related to the evidence held by the State and agreed that a reasonable jury would have more than likely convicted him on the charges, waived his right to a jury trial or appeals and entered the new plea.

As part of the plea, the State dropped one count of the gross sexual imposition and the charge of terrorizing, leaving three Class AA Felony counts of gross sexual imposition for the courts to contend with during sentencing.

Tackett faces the three Class AA felonies, the result of the victim’s age and the nature of the offenses, which carry the possibility of life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

After only a few minutes of direct questions to Tackett and his defense counsel, Gion accepted the change of plea and dismissed the court. Tackett left under the control of the Stark County Sheriff’s Office, where he will remain in the custody of the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center until sentencing.

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Amanda Engelstad, Stark County State's Attorney. (Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press)

“I’m confident that had this trial gone to jury, the state would have presented sufficient evidence leading to a conviction of Mr. Tackett,” Stark County State’s Attorney Amanda Engelstad said following the hearing. “North Dakota Century Code requires that he now complete a presentence investigation, risk-assessment and psychosexual evaluation before sentencing.”

On the completion of the investigation and evaluations, information presented within the documents will aid the court in deciding an appropriate sentence, conditions and the possibility and length of probation.

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Tackett, according to court documents, is alleged to have engaged in sexual acts with a minor under the age of 15-years-old, which included sexual contact between the defendants penis and the victim’s mouth, in addition to sexual contact between the defendants penis and the victim’s vulva.

In the original charging document, Tackett was alleged to have compelled the victim “by force or by threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury or kidnapping.” Under the Alford pleas, the verbiage was omitted and instead charged that Tackett was “an adult over the age of 22 and the victim was under the age of 15.”

The sentencing in the case will occur at the Southwest Judicial District Court in a hearing tentatively expected to take place in October 2021, following the completion of the presentence investigation, risk-assessment and psychosexual evaluation.

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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