The court case regarding the appeal of a 30-year sentence against a former cult leader who was once based in Finlayson is making its way now through the courts.
Last week, County Attorney Reese Frederickson gave his answer to Victor Barnard’s appeal through his court-appointed attorney, Amy Lawler of St. Paul, to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The main argument in the brief, filed in early June by Lawler, is Judge P. Hunter Anderson had failed to file a departure report, which allowed the judge to bring the charges upward due to the severity and number of criminal sexual conduct charges against Barnard. Frederickson noted the departure memorandum by the court was filed four days after the appeal in January of this year, which made that argument moot. Lawler noted the departure report needed to be filed within 15 days following the sentencing.
In April 2014, Barnard was charged with 58 counts of criminal sexual conduct. After he was arrested by authorities in Brazil following a nation and worldwide manhunt, and long extradition battle, Barnard plead guilty to two of the 58 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct on October 11, 2016. Just 17 days later, Barnard was sentenced to 180 months for each count to be served consecutively.
Lawler, in her statement to the court, asked the court to reverse this upward departure and make each count for which Barnard was sentenced to be 144 months, or to make it six years shorter than what was originally agreed to by Barnard and the prosecutor. He is currently faced with serving a total of 30 years in state prison.
In her brief, Lawler did not dispute the charges against Barnard, which stem from sexual assaults against two girls at the former “Shepherd’s Camp” when the girls were 12 and 13 years of age.
During the first court appearance last October, both the judge and one of his attorneys, David Risk, went over many statements to make sure that Barnard agreed to the upward departure of the sentence, and asked him if he understood that any appeal would be very difficult if he agreed to plead guilty without going to trial. In all questions, Barnard said he knew what he was doing.
In his response, Frederickson also noted that Judge Anderson accepted the plea from the parties, who all agreed with the higher sentence.
“Appellant told the victims that he was Jesus Christ in the flesh and that sexual intercourse with him was normal because it was based upon God’s word. Appellant isolated the young victims from their families, and forced them into a life of serving his sexual and personal needs through physical abuse and humiliation,” noted Frederickson.
Frederickson also argued that Barnard was shielded by his followers when he was found in Brazil in February 2015. He also said that Barnard did fight extradition to the U.S. for over a year before agreeing to it.
The county attorney further stated the “District Court did not abuse its discretion when imposing the aggravated departure when the record reflects the District Court’s intention, the basis for the departure was stated on the record and departure reports were filed.”
Frederickson further noted that “the parties discussed the proposed plea with the court prior to entering the plea; the court expressly accepted the plea petition, aggravated sentencing petition and factual basis that included a recitation of the departure reasons; the court followed the terms of the agreement in imposing a sentence; and the court later submitted two departure reports. Therefore, the entire proceedings clearly reflect the court’s intention to impose the departure.”
There was nothing in the record, Frederickson said, that stated the departure reasons were based on uncharged or dismissed offenses; rather, they were aggravated since it occurred many times over a period of years with both victims.
A decision from the Court of Appeals could come as early as fall. Barnard’s attorney has 15 days to respond to the brief.
Barnard is currently incarcerated at MCF-Oak Park Heights. He was previously at the state prison in Rush City following his sentence, but was severely beaten in an early January incident.