“Eighteen months ago, a former cult leader who was originally charged with 58 counts of criminal sexual conduct agreed to a prison term of 30 years on two of the counts.
On Tuesday at the Pine County Courthouse, after a successful appeal by his public defender, Victor Arden Barnard had his sentence reduced by six years.
The appeal of the sentence by Barnard’s attorney and Assistant State Public Defender Amy Lawler focused on two aspects of the October 2016 sentencing, a long day in court for victims and other sexual assault survivors as they filled the courtroom. Lawler appealed the decision based on that Judge P. Hunter Anderson did not state on the record that the sentence was an upward departure. She also noted that this report was not filed within the required 15 days of sentence.
Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson then submitted a Petition For Review (PFR) to the Minnesota Supreme Court in hopes he could argue before that court, but that was denied.
Barnard appeared in court on Tuesday morning before Judge Krista K. Martin with Lawler. Barnard was shackled and handcuffed, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. He is currently imprisoned out of state following his severe beating in Rush City in January 2017 in which he suffered brain and lung injuries. Barnard sought to waive his appearance at the re-sentencing, saying he was scared for his safety if he were to return to Minnesota, and also saying he was medically fragile. Frederickson sought to have him re-appear, which the judge granted.
Barnard did not speak in court. Lawler told Judge Martin the defense had no other comments before the court.
Frederickson said the case, State versus Victor Arden Barnard, was emotional for all people involved, a case that took years to get resolved after Barnard fled the country. Eighteen months ago, Frederickson said everyone thought this would be the last time this matter was before the court.
“I had to tell them it was taken away and reduced,” Frederickson said of his call to the victims, one who called it a “slap in the face.”
Frederickson said it was apparent to everyone in the court on sentencing the intent of the upward departure to plead guilty to just two charges, but with an upward departure from 24 to 30 years.
Frederickson said that Barnard stated he wanted to treat the victims respectfully and to plead guilty, without a long court case.
“We thought this was the day of reckoning,” Frederickson told the court.
“It’s obvious his words were hollow,” Frederickson added.
“He continues with a story of lies,” the county attorney said, saying “no matter what Mr. Barnard says means nothing.”
Frederickson asked the court to consider Barnard for civil commitment after his prison term, like Judge Anderson found in October 2016.
Judge Martin said she had reviewed the court file and had originally signed the probable cause complaint, had read the victim impact statements, and also the appeal.
Judge Martin said it was “a very, very emotional day” when Barnard was sentenced, one which no one was expecting.
“I believe the procedural errors made that day were unintended,” Martin said, and agreed that “everyone agreed to the sentence.”
“The law sometimes is such a tangled web,” Martin added.
Judge Martin then asked Barnard and Lawler to stand for the sentencing. He was sentenced again to two counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree. Barnard will serve a maximum 12 years on each count served consecutively with a minimum of eight years on each count for good conduct while in prison. There will be a five-year conditional release term if he ever gets out of prison.
Along with the prison term, Barnard was fined $12,000 on each count, along with a 30 percent surcharge on fees, which will be taken from prison earnings. Martin noted she could have reduced this amount, but wouldn’t noting his long prison term, saying Barnard was “smart, educated” and also “scarily manipulative.”
If there is ever a book that Barnard is involved with on this case, Martin also noted that Barnard should not profit from it.
Martin also agreed that Barnard was “dangerous” and would be a candidate for civil commitment if he were ever to complete his sentence noting multiple acts against two victims, in which he used religious doctrine to force them to comply.
At the original sentencing, Barnard said he understood he was agreeing to the higher than mandatory sentence and agreed that there were aggravated factors in the case, that the abuse happened multiple times over many years.
While leader of River Road Fellowship, located west of Finlayson, Barnard started sexually assaulting two girls, then 12 and 13, for a number of years starting in 2000. The women reported these abuses in 2012 which lead to a multi-year investigation and search for Barnard that ended in Brazil in 2015.”