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Williston man has felony rape charge dropped to misdemeanor

WILLISTON - A Williston man who was facing a possible life sentence if convicted of rape will not go to trial after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges as the judge and the man's attorney questioned the validity of the charges and took a dig a...

WILLISTON - A Williston man who was facing a possible life sentence if convicted of rape will not go to trial after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges as the judge and the man’s attorney questioned the validity of the charges and took a dig at law enforcement.

Dominic Rollice, 32, entered an Alford plea last week to two counts of sexual assault, Class B misdemeanors that carry a maximum of 30 days in prison.

The plea deal was forged  before Rollice was to be tried on two Class AA felony charges of gross sexual imposition, which, upon conviction, could have meant up to life in prison.

Although District Judge Joshua Rustad sentenced him to 30 days in jail along with another suspended term of 30 days, Rollice, who has been behind bars since his arrest in early August, was given credit for time served and released last week.

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He will not have to register as a sex offender under the conditions of the agreement.

Rollice accepted the deal out of financial necessity, his attorney Liz Pendlay said Monday. He entered an Alford plea as a means of maintaining his innocence while admitting that, based on the evidence presented, a jury could potentially convict him during trial.

“Mr. Rollice had reservations about giving any indication of guilt,” Pendlay said.

After paying for an attorney while spending nearly three months in jail, though, the need to return to work became paramount, she said.

“Essentially he had to spend quite literally every last penny retaining counsel,” Pendlay said.

Pendlay called the original charges against Rollice “egregious,” pointing out that the allegations bounced from the highest level felony to the least serious criminal offense in the state.

“I don’t think it was too ironic that we suggested at  the preliminary hearing that that was the appropriate way to handle it,” she said. “Law enforcement missed the ball….This was in my mind just overcharged from the get-go.”

Lt. Det. Dave Peterson of the Williston Police Department countered Pendlay’s claim, saying officers handled the case correctly.

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“As law enforcement we try to put together the best case and present it to the State’s Attorney and we think that we did that in this instance,” he said.

The charges against Rollice stem from a woman’s accusation that he raped her in his apartment. The two met at Walmart earlier that night, police said, and a text message exchange led to the woman visiting Rollice at his home. The woman refused his advances until Rollice forced himself on her, police said. He was arrested the next day after the woman reported the incident to authorities.

Rollice pleaded not guilty to rape charges during a preliminary hearing in September, where Pendlay took investigators’ accounts to task, highlighting inconsistencies and forcing a detective to admit that there was no evidence of the woman’s non-consent.

The woman, in an interview with police, said that Rollice told her to leave if she wasn’t interested in sex, Pendlay pointed out, prompting the detective to concede that she did not object further after telling him she wasn’t there for that purpose.

Afraid that he would hurt her, the woman froze until the encounter was over, police testified.

Pendlay also questioned investigators’ claims of injuries to the woman’s legs, noting that although police said she suffered multiple bruises, a photo offered as evidence showed just one small mark.

Three witnesses who were at Rollice’s apartment the night of the incident contradicted police accounts as well, and said they were not contacted by investigators after the arrest.

Judge Rustad also weighed in during the hearing, voicing concern about discrepancies between witness and police testimony.

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“I have doubts, serious doubts, about the case that has been brought,” he said. “There certainly are inconsistencies, at a minimum.”

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