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Beltrami County attorney drops charge in sexual assault of 11-year-old

The Beltrami County Law Enforcement Center houses the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office and the Bemidji Police Department.
Larissa Donovan
/
KAXE
The Beltrami County Law Enforcement Center houses the Beltrami County Sheriff's Office and the Bemidji Police Department.

No DNA evidence or witness statements corroborated the allegation, but the county attorney’s office reiterated that a medical exam confirmed the girl was sexually assaulted by an unknown assailant.

BEMIDJI — The Beltrami County Attorney’s Office dropped a serious felony charge against a 23-year-old Texas man accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in Bemidji last fall.

In a news release, County Attorney David Hanson announced there is no evidence to support that Oscar Ernesto Luna committed the crime after DNA testing and interviews with witnesses failed to corroborate the victim’s story.

While this charge has been dropped, the county attorney’s office reiterated there is no doubt the girl was sexually assaulted. A medical examination confirmed this, and unknown male DNA was found.

There are currently no suspects, and authorities said the case will continue to be investigated.

“This case involves a little girl who experienced an unthinkable trauma,” Hanson stated in a release. “And for the prosecution to conclude with an outcome of no charges is itself another trauma — both for the victim and for all the individuals who have put their heart and souls into this case.”

Occurring in September 2023, the arrest drew widespread attention because of the age of the victim and the alleged circumstances surrounding the assault. The victim reported to authorities that she was violently raped by a man with facial tattoos and an eyebrow piercing who went by the name “Panda” and three other men. The victim stated she was among a group of three female victims.

During the execution of a search warrant at the home believed to be the site of the assault, law enforcement reported finding Luna and several other people living in the home. The United States Border Patrol was reportedly called in to assist with a language barrier.

The Border Patrol previously confirmed to KAXE that 10 unnamed people ranging in ages from 18 to 57 were taken into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Mexico and Guatemala were the countries of origin for the individuals, according to authorities. Luna, however, is a U.S. citizen from Mission, Texas.

None of these men matched DNA collected from the young girl’s clothing, and none were charged with a crime. Law enforcement also processed the scene and the car that the victim said she was forced into for DNA. The girl’s DNA was not found in either place.

Luna’s attorney had questioned the evidence in pretrial motions, arguing witness statements provided to police were “wholly inconsistent” with the allegations of the case. Public Defender Steve Bergeson successfully argued for access to review the girl’s child protection records, which he said were “essential to gauging her motivations for creating such a story.” The request came after her mother admitted to being addicted to fentanyl in interviews and said she and the girl’s father were experiencing homelessness.

In announcing the dropped charge, Hanson stated there was sufficient probable cause for bringing the case against Luna last year.

“In the American Justice system, prosecutors have a special duty to refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause. Initially, there was sufficient probable cause to proceed with charges against Luna, but as the investigation unfolded, much of that evidence became either uncorroborated or exculpatory,” the release stated.

Luna remains in the Beltrami County Jail facing a new felony charge for drug possession. According to the report, police found drugs while searching the home, which is in a school zone.

Luna intends to plead guilty to this charge, the county attorney’s office stated. Once the drug charge is resolved, he will be released to Hennepin County, where he has two outstanding warrants.