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DNA didn’t match, charges dropped, but rape case haunts Superior youth

By Brandon Stahl, Duluth News Tribune, Minn.

Dec. 26–A typical day for Andrew Lawrence seems to be a pretty simple one. The 18-year-old said it usually consists of him sleeping until the early afternoon, playing video games at his apartment, and then going to work as a cook at a Superior restaurant. About once or twice a week, he goes to visit his parents about a mile away and do laundry.

It’s a far cry from his life just over a year ago, when he was facing charges that in July 2010 he broke into a Superior woman’s home, held a weapon to her throat, and raped her.

Those charges were dropped by the Douglas County Attorney’s office on Dec. 11, 2010, after DNA evidence found at the woman’s house didn’t match Lawrence.

The alleged victim maintained that Lawrence was still responsible for the rape and that the charges should not have been dropped.

Ultimately, both the alleged victim and Lawrence were critical of how Superior police handled the case. A News Tribune investigation published in March found Superior police failed to follow leads and interview potential witnesses for both sides to either corroborate the story, or to dismiss the allegations as false without arresting Lawrence.

A year after the charges were dropped, Lawrence said he still thinks often about the case and worries about how it could affect his future. Though the charges have been dropped, the accusation is still on his record.

“I still get depressed,” he said. “I probably won’t be able to get a good job or go to college. My senior year was messed up. I don’t have any grades for my senior year because I had off-campus schooling. That doesn’t look good for college.”

His stepmother, Rita Bergstrom, is more blunt in her assessment of Lawrence’s future.

“The kid is screwed,” she said. “He’ll be stuck doing manual labor jobs for the rest of his life. What the police basically said was, ‘We can’t prove you did it, but we’re keeping our eye on you.'”

“And what is he going to say? ‘I didn’t do it, but they’re keeping it on my record because the cops think I did?'”

The Superior Police Department said the case against Lawrence is still open but inactive, meaning that police believe they have investigated all possible leads. Superior Police Captain Chad LaLor said no new evidence has been presented in the case since March, and that Lawrence has not had any contacts with police since the 2010 investigation.

Lawrence has a restraining order filed against him by the alleged victim, but LaLor said there have been no complaints to his department about any violations of that order.

The alleged victim declined to comment for this story. Interviewed in February, she told the News Tribune that she regretted not going to authorities earlier to report the assault. She said she was raped on July 20 but didn’t report it to police until July 31.

“For a long time I beat myself up over it,” she said. “If I had just reported it sooner, if I had reported it when it happened, then he would be behind bars right now.”

Lawrence maintains his innocence. If he’s ever asked to explain that innocence to an employer or college, he said he’ll break it down for them like this: “I was falsely accused by a woman I don’t know, never knew and I went through hell for six months. My DNA didn’t match what was found in the house and they dropped the case with no evidence.”
“All I can do is hope that they believe me,” he said.

In the short term, Bergstrom said she and her partner are trying to recover financially after filing for bankruptcy because of legal bills. Though they explored filing a lawsuit against the Superior police department, she said no lawyer would take the case.
“We would have to prove malice,” she said.

Lawrence said he tries not to think about the accusations levied against him and the woman who brought them. Asked if he would ever talk to her, he replies, “Right now I couldn’t even talk to her. It would be the hardest thing to do. She blames me for the most outrageous thing ever.”

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