Appellate court upholds Hanska child molester’s conviction
The state appellate court has upheld the conviction of a Hanska child molester. A Brown County jury convicted Christopher Lee Konakowitz, 41, of two counts of felony 2nd-degree criminal sexual conduct in July 2021.
District Court Judge Robert Docherty sentenced Konakowitz to consecutive sentences of 17 1/2 years and 3 years, an upward departure from Minnesota guidelines. Konakowitz is serving his prison sentence at the state corrections facility in Rush City.
Court documents say Konakowitz received an aggravated sentence because of the particular vulnerability of the children involved. But Konakowitz appealed, arguing that the evidence used to convict him was insufficient and that the district court erred by allowing the state to present Spreigl evidence – evidence from his previous crimes.
Konakowitz was charged in the appealed case in October 2019, after two girls reported that Konakowitz – who is related to the victims – had sexually touched them in October 2014 when they were under the age of 10.
In December 2019, the state sought to introduce evidence that Konakowitz had molested two other girls between 1999 and 2001. Court documents say one of the girls was under the age of 13; the other was 5 years old at the time of the incident. In May 2020, the state introduced a fourth act involving another child under the age of 13 into evidence.
At Konakowitz’s trial, prosecutors read a hearing transcript from 2003 in which Koakowitz pleaded guilty to 4th-degree criminal sexual conduct. A law enforcement officer also testified that Konakowitz was convicted of 1st-degree criminal sexual conduct in the case involving the 5-year-old.
Konakowitz argued that the victims in the 2019 case were not credible witnesses because they provided contradictory testimony on certain details, such as which girl slept on which side of the bed when Konakowitz entered their room to molest them. He also contended that the evidence did not prove he touched one of the victim’s “intimate parts,” by the legal definition of “sexual contact,” or that he touched the children with “sexual or aggressive intent.”
The appellate court’s opinion, however, said that inconsistencies in a witness testimony “are a sign of human fallibility and do not prove testimony is false, especially when the testimony is about a traumatic event.” The court says the jury could reasonably interpret from the evidence that Konakowitz did indeed touch the girl in an intimate place, and noted that Konakowitz did not provide an innocent explanation for touching the victims.
Konakowitz challenged the state’s Spreigl evidence, saying his prior acts were insufficiently similar to his most recent case, and too much time had passed since the prior acts to be relevant.
The appellate court disagreed on both counts, writing in the opinion that the district court had identified similarities in all of Konakowitz’s cases. The court said those similarities showed a “common scheme or plan,” particularly since Konakowitz had been in a position of authority over the victims as either a family member or as a partner of the child’s mother. The opinion says the acts were not too remote in time to be relevant in evidence.