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Afton man convicted of molestation sent to prison

An Afton man convicted by a jury of criminal sexual conduct maintained his innocence just before being sentenced to prison last week in Washington County District Court.

During the hearing, Charles Arthur Bell told Washington County District Court Judge John Hoffman that he had lived a law-abiding life after being warned at a young age about the consequences of breaking the law.

“I’ve never done anything bad in my life,” Bell, 63, said.

A Washington County jury convicted Bell May 22 of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Hoffman admitted that while Bell’s purported generosity in the community was compelling and that his clean criminal record was noteworthy, it wasn’t enough to sway the reduction in the sentence that Bell had sought.

“I know that’s a disappointment to you,” Hoffman said. “I’m sorry that I have to disappoint you.”

Hoffman then handed Bell an 81-month sentence, 54 months of which must be served behind bars. The sentence requires Bell to spend an additional five years on so-called “conditional release,” where he could be returned to prison for violating probationary terms.

The sentence concluded a contentious case where Bell denied allegations brought by a woman who reported Bell had sexually assaulted her when she was  approximately 8 years old.

The victim spoke at the sentencing hearing, where she said the incident manifested itself in self-destructive ways as the years progressed.

“All I felt was the numbness of my existence,” she said, adding that the incident “robbed me of my childhood.”

A criminal complaint outlines a 2012 text message exchange where the woman confronted Bell about the alleged molestation.

The exchange concluded with him stating “I am truly sorry for my past transgressions. My younger years were filled with things I can’t take back, should not have happened, and will affect many lives for years to come. I can only hope that the good I’ve done will somehow outweigh the bad.”

Attorney Thomas Plunkett asked Hoffman to issue a lighter sentence that did not require prison time. He described Bell as a respectful, humble man who was charitable in the community.

“There is really nothing to suggest that Mr. Bell is a threat to the community,” Plunkett said.

That Bell may have lived an otherwise decent life does not detract from the severity of the incident, Washington County prosecutor Peter Johnson argued.

“You do this once and you go to prison,” he said.

Plunkett said after the hearing that he is “leaning towards an appeal” in the case.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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