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Plea Bargain Reached In Last Children’s Theater Sex Abuse Case

February 7, 1985

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ A man who admitted having sex with a 15-year-old female student will avoid jail under a plea agreement in the last child sex abuse case stemming from a probe of the Minneapolis Children’s Theatre Co. & School.

Charges against Sean McNellis will be dismissed in one year if he commits no further criminal violations under the agreement outlined to Hennepin County District Court Judge Neil Riley, defense attorney Scott Holdahl said Wednesday.

McNellis, 23, a former student and apprentice at the school, was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct for having sex with a 15-year-old girl who was a student at the theater.

As part of the agreement outlined Tuesday, McNellis admitted in court that he had sex with the girl in early 1983.

Holdahl, said the girl, who will turn 17 this month, had approved the agreement.

According to the complaint filed against McNellis last spring, he and the girl saw each other frequently in 1983. They often were together at McNellis’ home in the basement of the house of John Clark Donahue, former artistic director of the theater he founded 20 years ago, the complaint said.

The investigation into the theater and school resulted in charges against seven people, including Donahue, who pleaded guilty in October to having sex with three 15-year-old male students at the theater.

He is serving a year in the workhouse and will be on probation for 15 years, during which time he is to have no contact with the theater or unsupervised conduct with children.

″The primary focus of the investigation and prosecution was Donahue and that was very successful,″ Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson said Wednesday. ″We were able to get a conviction of him that included a number of victims. We were able to show sensitivity to the victims, punish Donahue and provide for the public safety.″

Other charges ended in two acquittals, two dismissals and one guilty verdict involving a man not connected with the theater who was accused of having sex with one of the students.

John B. Davis Jr., executive director of the theater, said Wednesday that the school and theater are running extremely well this year, following a period of restructuring.

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