STILLWATER, Minn. -- A father's early confession that he killed his 13-year-old daughter because she refused his sexual advances was enough to convince a jury of his guilt, the prosecuting attorney said.
John Rairdon, a farm equipment repairman, had confessed to Otter Tail County authorities that he stabbed Sarah Ann Rairdon to death last May. But he later recanted the story, saying he couldn't remember the murder.
'I believe (Rairdon) remembers (the murder) but he doesn't want to deal with it,' said Michael Kirk, the prosecuting attorney. He said he believed testimony from investigators about the confession led the jury to return a guilty verdict.
A Washington County jury Friday found Rairdon guilty of murdering the girl who prosecutors say died while fighting off his sexual advances.
Rairdon, 39, of Underwood, Minn., smiled at his attorney as deputies led him from the courtroom to jail. He had admitted sexually abusing his daughter for five years.
'I can't help but feel a sense of tragedy over this case -- the tragedy of a little girl's life that was so horrible,' Kirk said.
Sarah Ann disappeared May 20 while walking home from school. Her body was found July 6 in a ditch near Rothsay, Minn., 25 miles from her rural Underwood home. Testimony indicated the child was fatally stabbed with an awl used to repair tires.
Defense attorney Daniel Eller said Rairdon had agreed to let the jury decide his fate.
'He said long ago that he would leave it to the jury,' Eller said. 'I thought we had created a reasonable doubt.
'He's made peace with his God and he said that whatever the jury decides he could live with. He says he still cannot remember the murder. But he knew he was going to spend prison time on the sexual abuse charge anyway.'
No Rairdon family members were in the courtroom at the time when the verdict was read.
Before Sarah Ann's body was found, Rairdon led 322 residents of Underwood on a search for the girl, raised more than $6,000 in reward money and had his daughter's picture put on grocery bags throughout the state.
Rairdon pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his daughter, but sentencing was delayed until a verdict was reached in the three-week murder trial.
During questioning last August, Rairdon admitted on videotape he killed Sarah Ann but later recanted and said he could not remember what happened on the night she walked home from school.
Rairdon faces a mandatory life term in prison on the first-degree murder conviction and could be paroled after serving 17 years under Minnesota law.
Judge Donald Gray set sentencing for March 17 in the Otter Tail County Courthouse in Fergus Falls following an investigation. The trial was moved to Stillwater because of pretrial publicity.