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Oak Harbor man found not guilty in child rape case

A jury in Island County Superior Court earlier this month found an Oak Harbor man not guilty of raping a child 14 years ago.

Steven Nelson, 31, had been charged with the first-degree rape of a child in the unusual case.

Nelson denied the accusations all along.

“The verdict was correct and I think the jury worked very hard on it,” said Charles Hamilton, Nelson’s attorney. He added that although his client was exonerated, nobody is happy about the case.

“I don’t know how families recover from things like this,” he said.

Last summer, an Oak Harbor woman reported to Detective Sgt. Teri Gardner with the Oak Harbor Police Department that she just found out that Nelson had allegedly raped and molested her daughters when they were young, Gardner’s report states.

The detective then interviewed the two young women, who both claimed Nelson had sexually assaulted them in 1996, the report states.

Deputy Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond said she could only charge Nelson with the alleged sexual assault of the younger girl, who is now 19 years old, because of the statute of limitations.

Under state law, any sexual abuse of a child younger than 14 years of age can brought to trial before the victim turns 21 years old or 10 years after the crime itself, whichever is later. The older victim is 21 years old, the report indicates. The Legislature has since changed the law to raise the age of the victim to 28.

Kenimond said she was baffled by the jury’s decision, especially since an eyewitness — the sister — testified. But she also said that cases of alleged sexual assault are harder to prosecute the longer they go undisclosed.

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