County Attorney Reese Frederickson has submitted a Petition For Review (PFR) to the Minnesota Supreme Court in hopes he can argue before the court that a Minnesota Court of Appeals decision to reduce the sentence of a former cult leader does not stand.
Last week, Frederickson filed the paper work with the Minnesota Supreme Court on the case. In November, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the appeal made by Victor Arden Barnard stands, reducing his two counts of criminal sexual conduct of 180 months in prison to 144 months on each of the two counts.
While not many PFRs get granted, Frederickson is still hopeful to argue the case, saying he was “highly disappointed and shocked” by the decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
In his statement to the court, Frederickson noted that Barnard agreed to the upward departure in the case from the presumptive sentence of 24 years to the statutory maximum of 30 years, after he pleaded guilty to two of the 58 original counts against them.
“The parties stated the agreed-upon departure reasons on the record. The parties advised the district court about the plea and departure reasons prior to its entry. At sentencing, the district court followed the agreement and imposed the 30-year sentence,” Frederickson noted. “The district court later submitted two departure reports to the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission stating reasons for an aggravated departure on each count.
However, the district court did not verbally repeat on the record that the sentence was an aggravated departure.”
Frederickson said it was the clear intent of the district court and the parties that Barnard receive a sentence of 30 years.
“The court of appeals answered this question in the affirmative, and refused to review the record for departure reasons or remand to correct the record,” the county attorney noted.
Barnard further noted that 15 pages of court transcript from when he agreed to the aggravated sentence was focused on questions to Barnard if he understood he was agreeing to a higher than mandatory sentence, and each time said he understood the agreement and wanted to be sentenced to 30 years in prison. Further, Barnard agreed that the aggravated factors referred to abuse that occurred multiple times over many years.
Barnard was charged with the 58 counts of criminal sexual conduct in 2014 for his activity when he was the leader of an isolated cult west of Finlayson that went back to 2000. He was charged with sexually assaulting two girls, ages 12 and 13, who came forward against him, telling the victims “that he was Jesus Christ in the flesh and that sexual intercourse with him was normal because it was based on God’s word.”
Both women were sexually abused by Barnard for up to nine years, court records said, and in 2012 reported these abuses to the Pine County Sheriff’s Office, which started an investigation into Barnard’s River Road Fellowship group.
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. After the appeal, Judge P. Hunter Anderson later filed the Departure Report with the state. In her appeal, Lawler noted this report needed to be filed within 15 days of sentencing.
“The court of appeals’ harsh determination in a case such as this advances no public or legal policy benefit. Rather, it goes against fundamental fairness and punishes the parties who bargained for an expected result that was accepted by the court. It also punishes the victims who had gained finality through the legal system,” Frederickson further said in the appeal.