DNA evidence leads to arrest, charges in 2 Chisago County sexual assault cases

A North Branch man has been arrested and charged in connection to two sexual assaults that occurred seven years apart in Chisago County, officials announced Friday.

The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office said Donald Edmond Warner, 44, was arrested after DNA evidence linked him to the scenes of two assaults — one that happened in Stacy in 2010 and another in Lindstrom in 2017.

In the Stacy case, the victim reported a man running up from behind her on a gravel road on May 9, 2010, before he pushed her down and raped her. Semen obtained from a sexual assault examination yielded a DNA sample that was not connected to any known person at the time, according to a criminal complaint.

Seven years later, a woman in Lindstrom reported that she was walking home alone at around 12:30 a.m. on July 16, 2017, when a man came up to her from behind, put his arms around her neck and began choking her. The man allegedly threatened to kill her if she screamed and forced her to remove her pants. A DNA sample was taken from the waistband of the victim’s clothing.

In late November, an investigator with the Chisago County Sheriff’s Office received a tip that Warner may have been connected to both of these cases.

On Dec. 4, officers surveilled Warner at his apartment in North Branch and saw him leave his truck and throw out a cigarette butt. The butt was taken to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for a DNA test, and it matched with the evidence from both prior cases.

Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Warner’s home on Dec. 14 and interviewed him about the two sexual assault cases. He denied having any knowledge of the victim of the 2010 case and said he didn’t know how his DNA would have been found on her person; the victim told investigators she did not know Warner and had never consented to have sex with him, charging documents state. Authorities arrested him in the Subway parking lot in Stacy the next day.

Warner faces one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with the Stacy assault and an additional count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct in the Lindstrom assault.

If convicted, each first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge carries a maximum sentence of 30 years, and he could face 25 years in prison for the second-degree charge.

Court records show Warner has previous gross misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct convictions in Anoka and Chisago counties dating back to 1999 and 2000.

Authorities are now encouraging others to come forward if they believe Warner may be connected to any other incidents that have gone unreported. Anyone with information can submit an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers online or by calling 877-222-8477.

“Advances in investigative technique and in forensic science are happening all of the time. In this case, both forensic investigation and Rapid DNA testing were employed to develop a break in the case and then quickly confirm the suspect’s identity,” BCA Superintendent Drew Evans said in a statement. “This case is an example of why it is so important to never give up on any unsolved case.”

The Chisago County Sheriff’s Office and Lakes Area Police Department were assisted in the investigation by the Minnesota BCA and the North Branch Police Department.