The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday and agreed with an attorney for a former cult leader that his sentence be reduced.
The appeal by Victor Arden Barnard became public mid-Monday morning. Shortly after he was sentenced to serve 180 months on each count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which was above the standard sentence of 144 months, Barnard’s attorney Amy Lawler appealed the sentence since at sentencing, the judge did not state for the record the reasons for the upward departure.
“In sum, the case law on this issue is clear: when a district court fails to provide reasons for a sentencing departure on the record at the time of sentencing, no departure will be allowed,” the court wrote. “Although we have no doubt that permissible departure grounds exist in this case, because the district court did not provide any departure grounds on the record at the time of sentencing, case law compels us to remand for imposition of the presumptive sentence. We are obligated to follow the law.”
Instead of serving 30 years in prison, Barnard will now have to serve 24 years instead.
The main argument in Lawler’s original appeal is that Judge P. Hunter Anderson had failed to file a departure report, which allows a judge to bring an upward sentence based on the severity and number of criminal sexual charges against Barnard, who was initially charged with 58 counts of criminal sexual conduct. Lawler noted that this report needed to be filed within 15 days following the sentence, which was not done.
During Barnard’s first appearance last October, both the judge and Barnard’s other attorney, David Risk, went over many statements to make sure Barnard agreed to the upward departure, and each time asked him if he understood. In all questions from the judge and his attorney, Barnard said he knew what he was doing and had agreed to the upward departure.
County Attorney Reese Frederickson was unhappy with the decision.
“The court basically said that the sentencing judge made a clerical error when he did not announce the departure on the record, even though there was a clear basis for the departure. Rather than sending it back to correct the judge’s error on the departure, the court of appeals is preventing the judge from giving the departure,” Frederickson said.
Frederickson is saying the decision will be appealed.
“I am highly disappointed and shocked by the decision. We will be appealing it to the Minnesota Supreme Court,” Frederickson said.
Barnard was originally charged with 58 counts of criminal sexual conduct after he was arrested by authorities in Brazil following a nationwide and worldwide manhunt, and a long extradition battle.
Barnard surprised many courthouse observers by pleading guilty to two of the counts on October 11, 2016, and 17 days later was sentenced to serve 30 years.
In her appeal, 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. In his response to the appeal, Frederickson noted that Judge Anderson accepted the plea from both parties, who all agreed to the higher sentence.