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County attorney's handling of cases involving child sexual abuse is questioned

A state investigative commission is now deciding whether a Minnesota county prosecutor who charged 21 people with sexually abusing children, but later dropped the charges, should be dismissed. On Monday, the three-member commission heard County Attorney Kathleen Morris defend her decision to drop the charges. The commission, appointed by Gov. Rudy G. Perpich is investigating allegations that ``the guilty went free.''

Asked by Stephen Doyle, Miss Morris's defense attorney, if she felt she made the right decision in dropping the charges, she responded, ``Yes, I don't have any doubt about that.''

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Morris says she dropped the charges after discussion with guardians of the children, staff members, and therapists led her to believe the children would not be able to endure further questioning and testing.

Another key factor in her decision, according to the New York Times, was to protect a homicide investigation connected with some of the cases.

This investigation was based on charges, made by some of the allegedly abused children, that other children had been murdered at sex parties.

State and federal investigators had found no evidence to support the homicide allegations.

But commission member Kelton Gage said 15 ``and possibly more'' of the child sexual-abuse cases could have been prosecuted.

``I say she committed malfeasance, because there's every reason to believe that the guilty went free in Scott County without having to do so much as defend themselves in court,'' Mr. Gage said in his closing arguments.

Malfeasance is an action or actions that, while not necessarily illegal, are ``unlawful in very general terms'' and may include violating a code of ethics, said Anoka County District Judge Lynn Olson, head of the panel.

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``To an amazing degree, this case comes down to whether Kathleen Morris . . . can be believed,'' says Gage.

However, one commission member, Julius E. Gernes, who is the Winona County Attorney says, ``The tragedy in this case is not what happens to her in this hearing . . . it's that the children will perceive that there is no place for them to turn.''

Ms. Olson said it will be one to two months before the panel makes a recommendation to Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich.

Governor Perpich has said he will abide by the commission's findings.

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