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January 10, 2014

Grand Traverse County jurors find Colorado man not guilty of rape

TRAVERSE CITY — A jury cleared a Colorado man of all charges from accusations he raped and choked a woman in Traverse City’s Holiday Inn.

Kent Michael Pettenger, 33, sat through a two-day trial in Grand Traverse County’s 13th Circuit Court on three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. Authorities said Pettenger on June 8 sexually assaulted a Freeland woman he met in a hotel bar, but he contended the encounter was consensual.

Jurors on Wednesday night took four hours to deliver a not guilty verdict. Defense attorney Dena Horvath said Pettenger flew back to his home state on Thursday.

“I knew from the very beginning that my client was not guilty,” Horvath said. “I had no question the verdict would be not guilty, and without a doubt justice was served.”

But Grand Traverse County Assistant Prosecutor Noelle Moeggenberg said she was “a little bit surprised” by the verdict. She said the victim had injuries consistent with her story that Pettenger choked her during a violent sexual assault in the hotel’s arcade.

The woman’s friends testified she was “hysterical” and “distraught” after her encounter with Pettenger. The police report states Pettenger, who was in Traverse City to install tiles at a private residence, claimed the woman approached him in the hotel’s bar and sparked a “completely sexual” conversation that led to consensual sex.

Pettenger’s lead attorney Jeffrey Kortes said the woman’s intoxication following a day of drinking at a wedding was a “crucial part” of the case.

“Unfortunately, I think the intoxication led to her actions that night and remembering it different when she sobered up,” he said.

Moeggenberg said sexual assault cases involving alcohol are difficult to prove, but the physical evidence matched the woman’s story.

“The biggest concern is a verdict like that doesn’t discourage other victims from coming forward,” Moeggenberg said.

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