South Dakota Senator testifies in his own defenseby Cara Hetland, Minnesota Public Radio
A South Dakota state senator defended himself against allegations he groped a teenage page nearly a year ago. Sen. Dan Sutton, (D-Flandreau) is the subject of a special state Senate inquiry into the allegations.
Sioux Falls, S.D. — Testimony in the second day of the South Dakota Senate fact-finding hearing contained new allegations, explanations and a few surprises.
There were unsubstantiated claims that Sen. Dan Sutton (D-Flandreau) engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with a second young man seven years ago while on a band trip to Washington D.C. That information was revealed to Sutton's lawyers last week. The man making the claim is Brandon Carr. He has been subpoenaed but has not yet testified.
The surprise came when the lawyer for the Senate called Sen. Sutton to the stand. Sutton was calm and direct with his answers. But when his own lawyer started asking questions Sutton became more animated.
Sutton claims 19-year-old Austin Wiese made up the story that he groped Wiese in a hotel room. Sutton says Austin Wiese was like a son to him and he didn't think it was inappropriate the two shared a bed. Sutton offered Wiese a place to stay while the teenager served as a legislative page.
Dan Sutton denied the allegations by Wiese and Carr.
"I did not do what Austin is claiming," Sutton said. "I did nothing. I did not do what Brandon Carr is claiming. I have too much to risk with my career. The media exposure has been upon my family relentlessly. Front page of everything - out there - my entire life laid before you, for you to be the judge if I should represent this body or be a part of this body. I did not do what Austin is claiming I did or Brandon Carr or anyone."
One witness testified that Sen. Dan Sutton had pornography on his home computer. Testimony came from a former roommate who was asked to rid the senator's computer of a virus. Sutton's lawyers say numerous people have open access to the senator's home and computers.
The allegations against Sen. Dan Sutton surfaced nearly a year ago. The Attorney General investigated the claims and no criminal charges have been filed.
Last October the allegation became public and a former lawmaker called for a special investigation. Despite the publicity, Sutton won re-election to his Senate seat with 57 percent of the vote. He says he often thinks of resigning but refuses because the voters trust him. He say he's staying because he owes it to the voters.
"I also have a wife who I love dearly and I have family who I love dearly and I have this Senate body who I have respected for eight years trying to make a difference not just in the lives of constituents in my district but all of South Dakota," Sutton said.
Sutton's lawyers will call additional witnesses before the testimony concludes. Then the nine- member committee will deliberate and determine a recommendation to the full Senate. The committee can recommend anything from expulsion to exoneration.
- Morning Edition, 01/25/2007, 7:20 a.m.