Nationals

Judge dismisses porn case against Minn. coach

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Judge dismisses porn case against Minn. coach

MANKATO, Minn. (AP) A Minnesota football coach sidelined by accusations of child pornography involving his own children reacted with relief Friday after a judge dismissed the case, saying he was ``thankful to be waking up from this nightmare.''

Todd Hoffner, the head coach at Minnesota State-Mankato, was effectively cleared when a judge agreed with his assertion that innocent family videos had been misinterpreted. He had been escorted off a football practice field and arrested in August after a university employee came across cellphone videos of his children dancing and playing naked.

``My wife and I have anticipated this day for a very long time,'' Hoffner said in a news conference at his attorneys' offices. ``It has finally taken a person with courage and authority to realize what these videos were.''

Hoffner said he wanted to return to work as soon as possible. The university said he will remain on administrative leave until its own investigation is complete. Hoffner has been on leave since the videos were discovered on his university-issued cellphone in August and turned over to police.

Hoffner testified earlier that his three young children asked him to videotape a skit they had concocted after taking a bubble bath. His wife, Melodee, has defended him, as have supporters who held candlelight vigils on his behalf.

A search of his home computer found no evidence of child porn, and social workers found no evidence that the couple's children had been abused.

In her ruling released Friday, Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass said she didn't find any evidence that the videos amounted to pornography.

``The videos under consideration here contain nude images of Defendant's minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain,'' Jass wrote in her 24-page ruling dismissing the charges.

Hoffner's attorney, Jim Fleming, singled out assistant county prosecutor Mike Hanson for bringing charges in the first place, saying ``Hanson essentially argued that this was child pornography because he knows it when he sees it.''

Hanson said in a statement that his office didn't agree with the dismissal but accepted it.

``Our office was trying to enforce a statute enacted to protect children,'' he said. ``No matter what the prosecutor does in a controversial case with a high-profile suspect, they will be criticized. We do not go looking for cases like this, they are brought to us.''

University spokesman Dan Benson said he had no timetable for when the school's investigation would be completed.

Hoffner, 46, of Eagle Lake, had been charged with one count of using minors in a sexual performance or pornographic work and one count of possessing child pornography. Both are felonies.

He has been sidelined for what has turned into an outstanding season for the Mavericks. They are 12-0 and host Missouri Western on Saturday in the national Division II quarterfinals.

The circumstances of the case, close on the heels of the Penn State scandal involving sexually abused children and authority figures who didn't intervene, invited questions about whether the university had overreacted to the videos.

Fleming, the coach's attorney, said Friday that it was for ``others to decide'' whether the Penn State case played a part in how Hoffner's case was handled.

``In light of all that's happened, it would be hard for me to say it wasn't at least a factor,'' Fleming said.

At an earlier hearing on his motion for dismissal, Hoffner testified that he had told his children to go take a bubble bath last June so he could get some work done. Hoffner said the children later came down in towels and asked him to videotape them. He said he never directed the kids, and never watched the video afterward or showed it to anyone.

The videos came to light after Hoffner took his problematic cellphone to work to be checked out.

The coach was escorted off the football practice field on Aug. 17 by university officials after the school turned the videos over to police, and he was arrested four days later.

Hanson, the assistant prosecutor, had argued earlier that the decision on whether or not the videos were pornography should be left to a jury, and disputed the claim that the images were innocent family fun.

Hoffner was entering his fifth year as head football coach at the school, where he had a 34-13 record. He led the Mavericks to the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, and a share of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference title in 2011. He was named NSIC coach of the year in 2009.

Word of the case's dismissal was just starting to spread Friday night on campus at the university, which with its roughly 15,000 students is among the state's largest. Sam Moyer, a senior from the Rochester area, said the charges were not a frequent topic of discussion among students.

``I know quite a few people who thought this was just him making family memories - not a sexual act,'' Moyer said. ``It's such a big conclusion to jump to, that he was some sexual predator. That ruins someone's life.''

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Associated Press writer Amy Forliti contributed to this report from Minneapolis.

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

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Cubs drop protest, but not stance about Sean Doolittle's delivery

WASHINGTON -- Sunday afternoon’s discussions still revolved around Saturday night’s close, which Washington manager Davey Martinez referred to as a “fiasco” on Sunday.

Chicago manager Joe Maddon started a chaotic situation when he popped out of the dugout following Sean Doolittle’s first pitch in the ninth inning Saturday. Maddon contended Doolittle’s “toe-tap” was an illegal delivery, akin to when Chicago reliever Carl Edwards Jr. tried to add a pause in spring training, but was told the move was illegal.

The umpires told him, and Doolittle, the delivery was legal. Chicago filed a protest with the league. After consulting with Major League Baseball and MLB’s Chief Baseball Officer, Joe Torre, the Cubs dropped their protest Sunday morning.

A point of differentiation is whether the pitcher is taking a second step. Umpires previously determined Edwards was taking a second step. They determined Doolittle was not. This is a judgment call for the umpires and is not reviewable.

Official Baseball Rule 5.07(a) states in part: “The pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch. If there is a runner, or runners, on base it is a balk under Rule 6.02(a); if the bases are unoccupied it is an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).”

The league, according to Maddon, said there is a difference between Edwards placing his full foot on the ground and Doolittle grazing the mound with a cleat when he delivered. Maddon continued to not agree with the interpretation.

“We went through the whole process,” Maddon said. “Our guys in the office spoke to MLB and I talked to Mr. Torre. The whole thing I wanted to really get done was protect Carl. I really didn’t anticipate a whole lot to be done with it. Even though I still don’t agree with the conclusion, because I think it’s exactly what Carl did, only a different version of it. But the point was, I would not be a good parent if I had not spoken up for my guy. And that’s what I was doing last night and, again, it’s just to eliminate any gray area there just for future because it’s going to happen again down the road somewhere and you’re just trying to delineate what is right and what is wrong. In my mind, it wasn’t a judgment call, I thought it was black-and-white. It wasn’t gray.”

Maddon said multiple times that Doolittle tapped with his toe in addition to grazing the mound, both of which, he contended, were not legal or different than Edwards' attempt at deception.

The congenial Doolittle was steamed postgame Saturday and remained irritated Sunday. Saturday, he took multiple shots at Maddon during his postgame commentary. He also taunted the idea when throwing warmup pitches while Maddon argued with umpires by making exaggerated kicks with his leg and multiple stops with his foot. Doolittle switched to a delivery without any stops -- one he often uses -- after the protest as a way to show Maddon he didn’t need the tweak to be successful.

“In that moment, he's not trying to do anything other than rattle me and it was kind of tired,” Doolittle said Saturday. “I don't know. Sometimes he has to remind people how smart he is and how much he pays attention to the game and stuff like that. He put his stamp on it for sure.

"I actually have to thank him. After they came out the second, the [Kyle] Schwarber at-bat, I threw two fastballs and a slider and a fastball to [Kris] Bryant and those were probably the best ones I've thrown in a while. I don't do the tap when there's somebody on base so I can keep my pickoff move available if I need it. I've had a lot of traffic recently, so I've had practice doing it, so it wasn't like a huge adjustment to me. I don't know. In a way, I kind of need to thank him."

Asked Sunday if Doolittle’s comments were relayed to him, Maddon smiled and said yes.

“Listen, I have no issue with that whatsoever,” Maddon said. “We’re all emotional. I’ve said a lot of things I didn’t want to say years ago -- even in this ballpark. I think if he understood the entire context, he might have had a different opinion. Even if he was the manager himself -- if he was me -- or if he was being protected by his manager under similar circumstances, I think his stance may be different.”

No one -- the league, Maddon or Doolittle -- changed their perspective a day later.

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

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NHL Playoff 2019 Roundup: Blues shutout Sharks 5-0 to win Game 5

The St. Louis Blues won a decisive Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks 5-0, pushing the Sharks to the brink of elimination.

The Blues are now one win away from their first Stanley Cup Final since the 1969-70 season, where they lost to the Boston Bruins in a sweep.

St. Louis started the scoring early when Oskar Sundqvist netted his second goal of the series in the first five minutes of the game. 

Jaden Schwartz then tallied his first goal of the game off a juicy rebound in front of Martin Jones to start the scoring in the second period. It was Schwartz's 10th goal of the playoffs, which tied him for third all-time in Blues history for goals in the postseason.

Vladimir Tarasenko added to the Blues lead off a penalty shot. He's the first player in Blues franchise history to score a penalty shot goal in the playoffs.

Schwartz then added two more goals in the third period for a hat-trick. The first came on a 5-on-3 power play advantage off a scramble in front of the net, and the second came from a backdoor one-timer pass from Tarasenko.

Schwartz now has 12 goals these playoffs, and it's his second hat-trick of the playoffs.

Blues goalie Jordan Binnington recorded 21 saves for a shutout, and he's the first rookie goalie to accomplish that feat for the Blues.

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