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Judge to rule in Duluth sex abuse case of ex-NFL player

Tom Burke has pleaded not guilty and asked a judge to dismiss the charge short of trial.

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DULUTH โ€” After more than a year of delays, a judge could rule within the next month on a defense challenge to child sexual abuse allegations faced by a former professional football player.

Thomas Allen Burke, 46, made his first in-person appearance in State District Court on Friday. The Poplar native, who went on the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame and a career in the NFL, is accused of molesting a 7-year-old child on multiple occasions in St. Louis County.

Thomas Allen Burke.jpg
Thomas Allen Burke

But defense attorney Chris Stocke in November 2021 filed a motion asking the court to assess the competency of the alleged victim, asserting that the court would be forced to dismiss the case after finding that she is not capable of testifying.

St. Louis County prosecutor Jon Holets has told the court that he believes the hearing is not actually necessary. Burke has already pleaded not guilty and could presumably raise the same argument before a jury.

Attorneys did not make any additional oral arguments before Judge Eric Hylden, who ordered a series of written briefs to be filed by April 19. Hylden said he anticipates a "relatively quick turnaround" for his order.

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If granted, the judge would set a hearing to question the alleged victim. Stocke on Thursday submitted 31 proposed questions pertaining largely to the child's ability to provide basic personal information, distinguish between truth and lies and recall her discussions with a forensic interviewer.

If the defense motion is denied, the case would likely be scheduled for trial.

Tom Burke, a 2020 inductee of the University of Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame, faces a potentially lengthy prison term if convicted of the Duluth charge.

A criminal complaint states that alleged assaults were first reported to authorities in February 2021, when the girl disclosed to her mother "something that's been a secret." The victim, who was known to Burke, underwent the forensic interview at First Witness Child Advocacy Center the following day.

Authorities said the girl teared up and was initially reluctant to provide information before eventually going on to give details of the alleged assaults. The complaint states that she described as many as five incidents involving oral sex or touching of her genital area.

Burke, when interviewed, denied any sexual acts toward the victim and explained that he thought he was being "railroaded," the complaint states.

A first-time offender convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct is expected to receive at least 12 years in under state sentencing guidelines.

Burke, who lives in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, has been free since posting a $100,000 bond immediately after his arraignment in June 2021. He was clean-shaven and wore a dress shirt for Friday's brief court appearance.

The defensive end set the Big Ten record for sacks in 1998, helping lead the Badgers to a Rose Bowl victory. Burke was picked in the third round of the 1999 NFL Draft and spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before injuries helped end his career.

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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