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The Crow River Lutheran Church, along U.S. Highway 71 in rural Belgrade was the site of the beating, sexual assault and robbery last week of a 73-year-old worman. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

Bail set at $500K for man who beat and sexually assaulted woman in church

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WILLMAR -- Unconditional bail was set at $500,000 for the man accused of beating, sexually assaulting and robbing a 73-year-old woman Nov. 22 at a northern Kandiyohi County church.

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Lindon Roy Knutson, 61, made his first appearance Monday in Kandiyohi County District Court on four felony charges: first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree aggravated robbery, third-degree assault and theft.

Knutson gave a Bemidji address in court, but information in the criminal complaint includes that he has spent much of the last 30 years in Wisconsin prisons or institutions as a habitual sex offender. He was indefinitely civilly committed as a sexually violent predator and admitted to sexually assaulting at least 10 other victims, but was released in 2008 from the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wis.

According to the complaint, sheriff's deputies were called around 2:55 p.m. Tuesday to Crow River Lutheran Church, along U.S. Highway 71 in rural Belgrade, on a report that an elderly woman had been assaulted. A passerby found the woman outside the church and transported her to a home and then to a clinic. From the clinic, she was transported by ambulance to Paynesville Hospital for treatment.

The woman, who served as the church cleaning lady, gave officers a description of the man, later identified as Knutson, and his vehicle, which was published in a statewide bulletin to law enforcement. She said she gave Knutson a tour of the church and directions to Bemidji before he physically and sexually assaulted her.

Items stolen from the woman were later located along the road near Hawick. Knutson was arrested in Cosmos after Police Chief Brent Schroeder pulled over his vehicle for a traffic violation.

During an interview with officers, Knutson said he likes churches and had been to three different churches that day. One church had been unoccupied. At the second, he received a tour from a man. At the third church, he'd received a tour guided by a woman. He said he entered the church, spoke with a woman and received a tour and directions. He said he got angry that the woman had lied to him when he asked for money. He shoved the woman into a wall, punched her, pinned her arms down, and then sexually assaulted her. He took her purse and left, driving a zig-zag pattern on gravel and tar roads and throwing items from the woman's purse out as he went.

Knutson has a "non-stop" history of sexual assault and crimes dating back to 1974, according to Connie Crowell, the first assistant county attorney and prosecutor in the case. She cited information from Wisconsin officials during Knutson's court hearing, noting that "he is one of their most dangerous predatory offenders."

Knutson was convicted of rape in 1975 in St. Croix County, Wis.

Crowell sought a $1 million unconditional only bail on Knutson. "He is an extreme danger to public safety," she said, adding that he was driving around the area under the guise of looking at churches. "Your Honor, they don't get much more dangerous than this," Crowell said.

Knutson is also charged with a felony in Beltrami County for failure to register as a predatory offender. According to court information in that case, he left Wisconsin and moved to the Bemidji area, but failed to inform law enforcement. He was arrested on Nov. 14, but bailed out on a $2,500 bail three days later on Nov. 17. Crowell said during the hearing that he'd been homeless since Nov. 18 and had been living out of his vehicle.

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Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

(320) 214-4373
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