Attacker at center of Minnesota rape law change pleads guilty to unwanted sexual touching

Antonio G Ginting

The man whose rape conviction reversal by the state Supreme Court caused the Legislature to quickly change the law on drunken victims pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge, avoiding a second trial and more jail time but requiring him to register as a sexual predator for 10 years. Francios […]

The man whose rape conviction reversal by the state Supreme Court caused the Legislature to quickly change the law on drunken victims pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge, avoiding a second trial and more jail time but requiring him to register as a sexual predator for 10 years.

Francios Momolu Khalil haltingly agreed that he was guilty of “nonconsensual touching” of a drunken woman’s inner thighs and breasts with “sexual intent,” defined in the law as criminal sexual conduct in the fifth degree, a gross misdemeanor.

The case got national headlines in March when the state’s highest court overturned Khalil’s felony third-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction and granted him a new trial.

In 2017, he picked up a woman who had been refused entry to a Dinkytown bar because she was too drunk. He offered to take her to a party. Instead, she passed out and woke up in Khalil’s north Minneapolis home to him raping her.

A Hennepin County District Court jury found Khalil, 25, guilty of third-degree criminal sexual misconduct, determining the victim was mentally incapacitated from alcohol and a prescription narcotic.

But the Supreme Court said that under Minnesota law, a rape victim isn’t mentally incapacitated if she consumed the alcohol voluntarily. The high court’s ruling prompted widespread criticism of the decades-old loophole in Minnesota law that prevented prosecutors from filing rape charges in cases where the victim was voluntarily intoxicated.

More than a half-dozen states, including Wisconsin, already have laws on the books that outlaw engaging in sexual contact with a person who is too intoxicated to consent. Within months of the Minnesota ruling, the Legislature passed a series of changes to Minnesota sexual assault laws that go into effect Sept. 15. Minnesota law will now include voluntary intoxication in the definition of “mentally incapacitated.”

In Khalil’s case, Hennepin District Judge Jay Quam told the jury they could find him guilty if the woman’s alcohol consumption was voluntary. When he took Khalil’s plea Monday, he apologized, saying he had made a mistake.

Neither Khalil nor the female victim were satisfied with the deal.

The victim, whose name wasn’t used in court and who sat at a table feet from the defendant, provided a written statement read by Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Amy Blagoev.

“It is nearly impossible for me to accept this plea as a consequence for Mr. Khalil as it shows just how heavily the system itself fails me, victims and survivors from all over the world, of all sorts of forms of abuse,” the statement said. “We need to do better as individuals. We need to do better as a state and we need to do better as a system.”

Khalil and his lawyer, William Walker, insisted that he had done nothing wrong. “Regret is not rape,” Walker said, adding that Khalil had spent two years in prison because of the court’s error. “He never raped her and he wants to be clear about that.”

At one point, Quam told Walker to “move on” and pointed out that despite his denials, the jury determined Khalil had sex with a woman who was too drunk to consent.

Khalil mumbled responses to Walker and Quam with both of them instructing him multiple times to provide a distinct yes or no answer for the official record.

“My job isn’t to tell you to accept this proposal, you can have another trial if you like,” Quam said, asking if Khalil wanted to go forward with a plea.

The defendant, wearing a mask over his mouth, a long-sleeve knit shirt and navy pants, responded with a drawn out, “Yeah.”

Quam noted his hesitation and asked again if he agreed to the plea. Khalil responded that he did, but at one point Blagoev interjected that he was stopping short of the agreed upon admission of “nonconsensual touching of the genitals with sexual intent.”

The judge said, “Is there a problem with that, Mr. Khalil?”

Both sides met with the judge in a sidebar that wasn’t public, the court took a break, then returned with Khalil agreeing he had touched her breast and inner thigh with sexual intent. He did not apologize or provide any additional explanation.

The victim, however, recounted in her statement not the attack, but the trauma of the four months of fallout from the Supreme Court decision that she said caused her to again be faced with “an atrocious beast.”

She wrote of the panic attack that followed news that Khalil would be released from prison and given a new trial.

“To be informed that I might have to face a second trial as if the first one wasn’t traumatizing enough, was extremely detrimental to my mental, emotional and physical state,” she said. “My efforts to make a safer society and the sacrifices that came with it were reversed by one decision. I feel invalidated and everything that I have done is not enough and would never be enough.”

Eventually, however, the public outcry over the decision and outpouring of support helped her see the majority of people were on her side, she said.

She wasn’t satisfied with all the details of the deal, specifically the lack of a written no-contact order or treatment requirements for Khalil, but she wanted to avoid another traumatic trial for both herself and her supporters, who sat in court with her, alternatively angered and wiping away their own tears throughout the hearing.

“All of us have already endured and processed an enormous amount of effort, time and support that was necessary for this case,” the woman’s statement read. “Yet, the system continues to ask for more.”

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

Twitter: @rochelleolson

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