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.

  • Our justice system is broken…

    • Gary F

      He’ll have an “accident” in prison.

      Did his wife get time?

      • She testified against him. She’s considered a “vulnerable adult” also. Has had a child since. That one was taken away by the state, too.

        • Gary F


    • Erick

      Our justice system may be broken, but this is not evidence of that. Even people who commit horrific acts ought to be treated fairly under the law. To do elsewise may assuage our indignation but does not serve justice. If you want proof of a broken system, see Philando Castile.

      • Jeff C.

        I’d say it is evidence. A previous person was sentenced to 172 months of prison time after raping his daughter hundreds of times. That sentence (one month or less of prison time for every rape) was used as justification to reduce the prison of someone who was found guilty of raping their 12-year old developmentally and cognitively disabled daughter. Using a grotesquely light sentence as justification to reduce someone else’s sentence is evidence of a broken system.

        Sadly, the system is so badly broken that you can find evidence in many places.

        • Erick

          One can argue about what sentence lengths are appropriate, but justice (i.e. an unbroken system) demands that people be treated as equally as possible and that is the point of the ruling.

        • And in that case, the prosecution never filed for an upward departure. That’s why the assistant county attorney considers it an apples-to-oranges comparison.

      • Sonny T

        I believe the jurors complained that, under the law, they could not convict.

        There should be a special law for cops, taking into account the danger faced, the decisions which must be made, and other factors peculiar to the job. They could base the law on the Castile case. That cop should never have walked free.

        • Thread hijack. We’re not going to relitigate the Castille case here.

  • John

    “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.”

    I tend to think this sentence was too light, rather than the current one discussed being excessive.

  • Brian Simon

    How about revising the 172 month sentence as too lenient instead?

    • Guest_whos_coming_to_dinner

      That sentence was at the top of the presumptive range chosen by the legislature. If you feel it was too lenient, contact your state representative.

      • That’s incorrect.

        An upward departure is allowed by sentencing guidelines but is not part of the presumptive range established by the guidelines. It is soley judicial discretion in which previous sentences establish limits under appellate review.

        • Guest_whos_coming_to_dinner

          Yes, and no upward departure was requested in that case, so the court issued a sentence at the top of the guidelines range. Guidelines sentences are deemed appropriate, so there is nothing to “revise.” If Brian Simon nevertheless feels that a top-of-the-box sentence is inadequate punishment for that crime, his only recourse is with the legislature, which can change the presumptive range.

    • I don’t believe it was appealed by prosecutors.

    • Sonny T

      How about giving the guy who mowed down the children in a playground 30 years? What did he get? A few months and a stern talking-to?

      These judges are nutty, or the system is, or both.

  • BReynolds33

    Did all three judges agree? I’m looking at the ruling and can’t find where it lists if anyone dissented. Just want to be clear on which judges to recall from the bench / actively campaign against when they run for re-election.

    • BReynolds33

      It also lists John Smith as a judge, but the intertubes say he retired in 2016…

  • Kassie

    The day he gets out of prison a judge will declare him “a threat to himself or others” and lock him up for life in the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment Program (MSOP), which virtually no one ever escapes. Our system is very broken, but in my opinion, in very different ways than too light of sentences for sex offenders. It is too harsh with no due process when putting folks into MSOP for life.

    • He’s got a federal charge of child pornography. He’s probably not getting out.

  • AL287

    There are many perverted people in the world that cannot be fixed. This man is likely one of them.

    Sometimes the safest solution is to lock them up—for life.

    Not only did Barthman rape and assault a developmentally and cognitively impaired 12 year old, he also lured her impaired mother online and convinced her to participate in his heinous acts.

    I think the lengthy sentence is justified.

  • lindblomeagles

    Whether a priest, a mom, a dad, another relative, or a stranger, these sentences simply are never enough to reverse the long term damage child molesters and abusers leave on (their) children. The children are just not the same after being abused. You can’t leave them alone around other children because they have a tendency to hurt others, physically/sexually, and you can’t leave them alone around adults either because the chance the children will be re-abused or to come on to others is great. Social workers and psychologists spend time with these children trying to re-teach them boundaries, healthy relationships with peers and the opposite sex, good self esteem. Some children still have problems that follow them into adulthood. It’s just tragic.