WILLMAR -- Lindon Roy Knutson, 62, was sentenced Thursday to 26 years in prison, and conditional release for the rest of his life, for the sexual assault of a woman at Crow River Lutheran Church near Belgrade.
Knutson had been convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct for the attack on a 73-year-old woman in November.
The 312-month prison sentence was a "double upward departure" -- or twice the presumptive sentence in state sentencing guidelines. The departure is allowed by state statute in cases involving sexually dangerous offenders. Judge Michael J. Thompson handed down the sentence in Kandiyohi County District Court. As part of a plea agreement, Knutson pleaded guilty to the criminal sexual conduct charge and first-degree aggravated robbery.
Felony third-degree assault and theft charges were dismissed.
Knutson is a Wisconsin sex offender who listed a Bemidji address, but he has spent much of the past 30 years in Wisconsin prisons and in mental institutions for multiple sex crimes.
He was also sentenced to 78 months in prison on the aggravated robbery charge for beating the woman and taking her purse. In addition, he was ordered to pay $12,746.43 in restitution for the victim's hospital bills and other costs and $2,000 in fines from his prison earnings.
The woman said during her victim impact statement that she was cleaning the church when she heard footsteps upstairs. She gave Knutson directions and a tour of the church before he hit her several times, knocked her down and got on top of her.
"I pleaded with him not to do what he was going to do," she said.
She said she told Knutson that she did not have any money, even though she did have $300 in her purse for Christmas shopping, and said she then asked God's forgiveness for telling a lie in church.
The woman detailed how Knutson sexually assaulted her, kicked her and told her to stay where she was and left the building. She said she got up, but without her glasses, car keys or purse, didn't know what to do.
"I asked God for help," she said, and just then, a church parishioner drove by and she flagged him down. The man drove her to a nearby clinic, from which she was taken to the Paynesville hospital. She spent three days in the hospital. Knutson was apprehended a short time later in Cosmos.
The woman said she did not want to go to church that next Sunday, with her face all black and blue and wounds still healing. "But that would be another day he would take," she said. "You didn't take that day from me."
The woman said she has not been able to forgive Knutson. "What you have done to me and your other victims is unforgiveable," she said. "You deserve to be put in prison for the rest of your life."
Knutson's list of other victims includes women in several states and in Vietnam, where he raped a prisoner of war while serving in the military.
Before the sentencing, Thompson questioned Knutson about the prior crimes, including a burglary in North Dakota, the 1974 rape of a 17-year-old girl in St. Croix County, Wis., his civil commitment and escape from sex offender treatment in 1977, an unlawful restraint conviction in Illinois for attempting to kidnap a woman for sexual purposes and his conviction for false imprisonment, being a habitual criminal and possession of a weapon in 1985 in Wisconsin. He was sentenced to eight years in prison and was civilly committed in 1999. He was released by judicial order in March 2009.
Before he was sentenced, Knutson apologized for the pain he caused to the victim, her family and community and thanked the court officials, prosecutor and his public defender.
"I'm sorry for the physical and emotional pain I've caused," he said. "I'm going home now. I won't have to worry about stuff on the outside."
It is highly likely that Knutson will be indefinitely committed to the Minnesota state sex offender program -- a civil court process -- if he lives long enough to complete his prison sentence.
Connie Crowell, first assistant county attorney who prosecuted the case, told Thompson that Knutson is a grave danger to public safety with a long history of criminal sexual behavior.
Each time Knutson was released from custody -- he has been free only three of the last 30-plus years -- he reoffended with sex crimes, including the church assault, Crowell said.
"This didn't have to happen," she said. "Wisconsin had him committed twice."
It is the victim, even though Crowell said during the hearing that she hesitates to call her that, and the sisters of the 17-year-old victim in the 1974 Wisconsin rape case, who have prevailed in this case, the prosecutor said.
The group of five sisters has traveled three hours by car to each court hearing for Knutson to support the local victim's family and to advocate for locking the sex offender up for good.
"They have prevailed. He will not," Crowell said. "It is because of these courageous women that this 62-year-old man will get what is essentially a life sentence."