|Thursday, April 3
Jury finds Puckett not guilty on all charges
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett was cleared Thursday of all charges in the alleged sexual assault of a woman in a restaurant bathroom.
A jury of six men and six women deliberated nearly 12 hours over two days. Puckett sat still as the verdicts were read, then hugged his lawyers.
The 43-year-old Puckett, who played his entire career for the Minnesota Twins, was accused of dragging a woman into the men's room, forcing her into a stall and grabbing her breast hard enough to leave a bruise.
He was charged with false imprisonment, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and fifth-degree assault. Prosecutors had said they wouldn't seek more than a year's jail sentence if Puckett were convicted.
"I'm glad it's all over," Puckett said. "I think justice was served today. I want to thank the jury for understanding and listening to all the facts and making the decisions. I want to thank them very much. And I just want to go home."
Puckett's accuser displayed little emotion as the verdicts were read. Afterward, a friend patted her on the back as they slipped out a side door.
"I'm really disappointed in the verdict today, because I was telling the truth," she said. "But I'd do it again. I don't regret coming forward. Regardless of what the verdict was today, if my telling the truth has helped even one woman not be sexually assaulted, I would do it again -- even if it was against a celebrity."
Defense attorney Todd Jones argued that 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 large size.
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.
Hennepin County prosecutor Amy Klobuchar said, "From the beginning, we knew it would be an uphill battle."
Puckett is one of Minnesota's most beloved sports figures, having helped the Twins win the 1987 and 1991 World Series.
His career abruptly ended before the 1996 season, because glaucoma blinded his right eye. The Twins made him an executive vice president, a position he held until late last year.
The Twins didn't renew his contract, though they said it wasn't because of his legal problems, and he declined to take a lesser job with the organization.
His image started to tarnish shortly after his 2001 enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He went through an ugly breakup, and denied his wife's allegations of violence and infidelity.
After the verdict, the Twins issued a statement: "Kirby's legacy ... will never be forgotten by baseball fans across the Upper Midwest. We continue to appreciate all that Kirby has done for the Twins franchise and baseball in Minnesota.''
Twins president Dave St. Peter said in an interview that he expects the team will sit down with Puckett eventually "and address what the future holds. Certainly there is an ongoing desire by the Twins to maintain a connection with Kirby Puckett."