Court: Long sentence ‘exaggerated’ crimes of MN parents who raped daughter

[This post has been updated]

It’s not hard at all to see why a district court judge in St. Louis County threw the book at Brian Barthman of Hermantown, Minn., more than a year ago.

His criminal sexual conduct was particularly disgusting on many levels.

Mandated reporters in the school system alerted authorities to the actions of him and his wife after their daughter — a 12-year-old developmentally and cognitively disabled girl — told them of their assaults against her between October 2012 and December 2015.

Barthman raped her on at least two occasions, one in which her mother, who is a vulnerable adult herself, participated and one in which she watched. She met Barthman online and moved in with him in Duluth a week later.

The daughter is now, according to court records, “racked with feelings of guilt and desperation as a result of [her father’s] sexual abuse.”

When a jury convicted Barthman, Judge Shaun Floerke sentenced him to two 30-year terms on each of two counts — more than double sentencing guidelines — for a total of 60 years.

It’s believed to be the longest total sentence for a sex crime in St. Louis County since sentencing guidelines were passed in Minnesota in the 1980s. The sentencing guidelines called for a 12-year sentence for a single count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

“Words fail to do justice under the unimaginable circumstances, but this sentence is a good start,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Rebekka Stumme said at the time.

On Monday, a Minnesota Court of Appeals panel said it was too harsh, even though it rejected almost every single appeal Barthman’s attorney filed. It ruled there was sufficient evidence to convict him. It ruled an amended complaint against him was not a mistake. It ruled that the jury was properly instructed.

It ruled that the prosecutor was not guilty of misconduct in closing arguments. It ruled it was not prejudicial to admit evidence of Barthman’s possession of child pornography. It ruled Floerke’s decision to impose consecutive sentences was not an abuse of discretion. And it ruled that the particular cruelty and vulnerability supported sentences for aggravated sentences beyond the state’s sentencing guidelines.

And then — surprisingly — it declared the sentence “unduly exaggerated the criminality of [Barthman’s] conduct” because others have received lesser sentences.

Writing for the three-judge panel (see ruling), Judge Michael Kirk acknowledged that the facts of the case are “horrific” and “severe,” but he said the 60-year total sentence is “beyond the scope of the evidence presented, and unduly exaggerates [Barthman’s] criminal conduct in light of similar cases.”

He cited another case in which a father engaged in hundreds of incidents of rape against his daughter, but got only a 172-month sentence.

Stumme, the assistant county attorney, said that case is comparing apples to oranges. She suspects Judge Floerke will sentence Barthman to a prison term of about 20 years or so on the second count to the 30-year sentence on the first count of criminal sexual conduct.

“I don’t think the sentence was unduly excessive,” Stumme said Monday. “But I can live with it.”

She said the daughter is being adopted by grandparents in Pennsylvania.