|Puckett on Trial|
Minneapolis, Minn. — Puckett appeared drained while he waited for the jury to file into the courtroom. The alleged victim, identified by initials K.L. in court documents, sat in the last row of the packed courtroom. The judge's law clerk ran through each charge and the jury's verdict. False imprisonment: not guilty; 5th degree criminal sexual conduct: not guilty; and 5th degree assault: not guilty.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Stephen Swanson then looked directly at the former Twins star and said, "You're free to go Mr. Puckett."
I think justice was served today. I think the jury listened to all the facts and I just want to go home.
With that, Puckett hugged his lawyers as a small round of applause erupted in the gallery. In the backrow, K.L. watched without expression.
Afterwards, Puckett spoke to a crowd of reporters, photographers and interested bystanders who had heard the verdict was in.
"I'm glad it's all over. I think justice was served. I want to thank the jury for listening to the facts and making the decisions. I want to thank them very much and I just want to go home," he said.
Puckett's attorney, former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, said the system worked. "From the start we addressed these issues in the courtroom. The jury made the decision and Kirby Puckett's got his life back," Jones said.
K.L. had accused Puckett of dragging her into an Eden Prairie restaurant men's restroom against her will last September and then groping her.
In closing arguments Wednesday, prosecutor Alan Harris contended the woman's story was supported by testimony from others - including a man who didn't know her or Puckett before the incident - and physical evidence, including bruises on the woman's breast, arm and ankle. But defense attorney Todd Jones, recalling Puckett's own testimony, said the woman willingly accepted Puckett's offer to escort her into the men's room because there was a crowd outside the women's room.
Jones also said the alleged attack couldn't have happened within the short time described by the woman and her friends, given the tight confines of the men's room and Puckett's physical bulk.
In his testimony Monday, Puckett said he extended his arm to the woman, "like a gentleman." He denied dragging, assaulting, groping her or bruising her.
There was some question early on whether Puckett's status as a Minnesota sports hero would sway the jury. Puckett helped the Minnesota Twins win the 1987 and 1991 World Series and is one of the state's most beloved ballplayers. But Al Harris, who prosecuted the assault case, says Puckett's status played no role in the jury's decision.
"I think it was a fair trial. I think the fact that they deliberated for some eight hours indicates the jury gave this very conscientious thought. They obviously worked through it. They did not come to a quick decision by any means. So I think it shows they worked very hard and gave it their full consideration," he said.
K.L. declined to talk with reporters after the verdict was read. But Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar did talk with her. Klobuchar said K.L. was upset, but was glad she brought the case forward. Klobuchar says despite the verdict, the case should send a message to other victims "that law enforcement is there for you; that we will take these cases seriously. No matter who the defendant is, when we have facts like this; when we have an independent witness; when we have bruises, the physical evidence, we will take this case seriously."
The Twins issued a statement after the verdict saying they were glad the matter was closed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report