Former CSOM adviser’s sexual assault case results in hung jury; retrial set

Andy Steinke

The sexual assault trial involving a former Carlson School of Management undergraduate student adviser ended in a mistrial last week.

The 12-member jury couldn’t come to a unanimous decision in the felony case against Candelario Zuniga, and was declared hung by Judge Regina Chu on Tuesday afternoon after two-and-a-half days of unsuccessful deliberation.

Zuniga was charged with first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct in July, three days after his arrest. The alleged victim is an 8-year-old girl.

The trial, which began Feb. 25, has been scheduled for retrial in Hennepin County District Court on July 14. A new jury will hear the case.

Prosecuting attorney Carrie Lennon said she wasn’t sure if the case would have a new judge or if evidence that was disallowed during this trial would be allowed in the next one.

One significant piece of evidence, child pornography found on Zuniga’s computer, wasn’t allowed by the judge for the jury to consider, Lennon said.

Without the pornography as evidence, the jury’s best evidence would’ve been the girl’s testimony.

“We always think it’s difficult for a jury to convict on the testimony of a child alone,” she said. “There is no physical evidence, so there is difficulty corroborating a child.”

Lennon said most trials that end in a hung jury never make it to a second trial.

“A lot of the time it ends in a plea, for whatever reason,” she said.

Zuniga was arrested by Minneapolis police July 20 on molestation charges after the girl told her mother a neighbor had been touching her inappropriately.

The girl later identified that neighbor as Zuniga.

Police were called on July 16 about the situation and the girl was interviewed three days later.

She told police how Zuniga had allegedly touched her, taken nude pictures of her and shown her pornographic pictures of other children.

The mother told investigators that her daughter frequently went to Zuniga’s house to play with other children because his wife ran a daycare from their home.

Zuniga was taken to Hennepin County Jail upon his arrest and was released July 24 on $75,000 bond.

As a part of his conditional release, Zuniga was ordered during his first court appearance to have no contact with the girl, her family or any other juveniles, except his son.

Zuniga also wasn’t allowed to stay in his home while his wife was still running her daycare.

In Minnesota, first-degree criminal sexual conduct carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison and a $40,000 fine.

Second-degree criminal sexual conduct charges carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and a $35,000 fine.

According to Minneapolis police, Zuniga has no prior criminal record.

Zuniga resigned from his position at the University and his last day of work was July 19, University spokesman Dan Wolter said.