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BLOOMINGTON — A 24-year-old man with a history of sleepwalking was acquitted of sexually assaulting a woman who accused him of molesting her as she slept in a Bloomington apartment.

Mathew Nelson of Bloomington was acquitted after about 90 minutes of deliberation Thursday by a McLean County jury.

The alleged victim, now 21, testified that she saw Nelson come into her room from the living room where he was sleeping on the couch. The alleged victim and Nelson had been drinking with friends before the incident, according to trial testimony.

The defense argued that Nelson did not commit the assault but if he did, he was not responsible for his actions because of the sleepwalking condition.

Nelson testified that he recalled falling asleep at the apartment and then waking as he was being punched and yelled at by the boyfriend of the alleged victim’s sister. The alleged victim contacted her sister after the alleged assault, and she and her boyfriend came over.

A defense expert, Dr. Neil Feldman, testified sleepwalking is triggered by several factors, including sleep deprivation, alcohol and sleep apnea. He said there is a genetic link to the condition and that sleepwalkers have no memory after the fact.

The defense evidence included testimony regarding Nelson’s past history of sleepwalking and family history of sleepwalking. The expert also noted that Nelson had severe sleep apnea, which increases the risk of sleepwalking.

Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Patton acknowledged after the verdicts that “this was a tough case. There is no case law in Illinois on the sleepwalking issue.”

Patton said she believed DNA evidence was substantial enough to prove the state’s allegation against Nelson.

Defense lawyer Stephanie Wong commented after the trial that “what is so unfortunate is that this young man suffered under a cloud of suspicion and unrelenting stress for a year before he was acquitted in 90 minutes. The shortness of the deliberations should send a clear message that the State should have carefully evaluated this case before subjecting this young man and his family to this kind of pain.”

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