Wisconsin man convicted of a 1975 rape avoided registering with authorities, now suspected in violent assault in rural Belgrade
A Wisconsin psychologist determined in January and a Dane County, Wis., judge later agreed that Lindon R. Knutson was not likely to commit another sexually violent offense.
They were wrong, according to Minnesota authorities who now have Knutson in custody in Kandiyohi County for beating, robbing and sexually assaulting a 73-year-old woman at Crow River Lutheran Church in rural Belgrade in late November.
In addition, it appears officials from various Wisconsin jurisdictions had contact with Knutson between the time he was released from state supervision in March and reportedly assaulted the elderly church custodian Nov. 24 at the rural Belgrade church.
"It just appears he slipped through the cracks in the system," said Terry Skaar, police chief in Cameron, Wis., where Knutson lived in an apartment from July 10 until he violated the Wisconsin sex-offender registry sometime in October.
He was later located Nov. 11 in Bemidji and was arrested Nov. 14 for failing to comply with sex-offender registration guidelines. He was released on a $2,500 bond three days later.
"Looking back I think there are a lot of things that could have been done differently," Skaar said Tuesday.
That list goes back to Knutson being released from state supervision, something prosecutors promised family members of a 1975 rape victim in St. Croix County in western Wisconsin never would happen. The county lies on the Minnesota border, just east of the Twin Cities.
"We were promised for years that he would never be released because of all the assaults he had and because he was a danger to do it again," said a woman who was 8 when her 17-year-old sister was raped. "There was no way he should have ever been out."
The woman, who is not being identified because that would potentially identify the victim, said she and other family members were concerned when learning in October that Knutson had violated the Wisconsin sex offender registry and his location was unknown.
"We are grateful that the state has a Web site to follow the sex offenders, but if it's not up to date and people don't even know where these people are, how does that help us?" she questioned. "We feel bad for the woman in Minnesota, largely because I think this was preventable."
The woman mentioned how Knutson drove his victim past her St. Croix County home and said he would harm other family members if she did not comply. He eventually was arrested after a police officer had coffee with an area restaurant owner, who said he hired a man who matched the description given by the victim.
Melissa Roberts, director of Wisconsin's sex offender programs, said Knutson was under the Wisconsin Department of Health Services supervision while living in a residential area of Madison, Wis., since 2008 before being released from that civil commitment in March.
Knutson lived in Rice Lake, Wis., from May 6 through July 10, when he moved to Cameron, Wis. Both communities are located in northwestern Wisconsin.
Roberts said sex registry officials learned in late September that Knutson was not living in Cameron because he failed to sign and return a location verification letter that is issued every 90 days.
Wisconsin Department of Corrections officials located Knutson in Bemidji in November and had him arrested. He was later released on bail in Bemidji.
Roberts admitted that it is possible for sex offenders to be in other areas for several months without authorities' knowledge.
Joseph Fitzpatrick, a Wisconsin DOC sex registry specialist in Eau Claire, notified Cameron officials and the St. Croix County District Attorney's Office on Oct. 27 that Knutson was non-compliant with registration requirements.
Fitzpatrick declined to comment about the circumstances, but Skaar said: "We received a notice from Mr. Fitzpatrick asking us to go out and look for (Knutson). They were inquiring for his whereabouts, what he was up to.
"We got a letter that they were in the midst of trying to figure out exactly where this guy was living at, but at that point they didn't want this guy picked up. They were doing an investigation on him and wanted to let me know he was out there."
Knutson was not at the 409 S. 4th St. address in Cameron that he had provided Wisconsin officials, the same one he had given when issued a worthless check charge in Sawyer County (also in northwestern Wisconsin) for an offense Aug. 16.
Dennis Erickson, assistant district attorney in St. Croix County, said Tuesday that he received a letter Oct. 28 from Fitzpatrick, asking St. Croix County to consider issuing an arrest warrant for Knutson and prosecute him for a sex registry violation.
Erickson said that he replied via letter Nov. 18, asking Fitzpatrick what authority St. Croix County had to issue a warrant, given that Knutson had resided in Dane and Barron counties since his release.
"It was confusing; who's required to do what, when and where? I figured the guy (Fitzpatrick) must know what he's talking about if he referred it to us," Erickson said.
"I just didn't know the statutory authority, and having no contact with him (Knutson) for 35 years I felt either or both of those other counties were more appropriate venues. If I had known the situation, that we had the authority, I might have issued it."
By the time Erickson got an answer from Fitzpatrick, Knutson already was under arrest for the assault in Kandiyohi County.
If a warrant had been issued, Knutson likely would not have been released from Beltrami County Jail in Bemidji on Nov. 17, after he used a bail bonds company to cover the $2,500 bond.
Some Wisconsin officials have voiced concern that the Minnesota judge set too low of a bond for a man with a lengthy criminal history who had violated registration terms.
Knutson has now been charged in Kandiyohi County District Court with felony charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree aggravated robbery, third-degree assault and theft.
According to court records:
Police were called around 2:55 p.m. on Nov. 24 to Crow River Lutheran Church, located along U.S. Highway 71 about five miles south of Belgrade, on a report that an elderly woman had been assaulted. A passer-by found the woman. She was taken to Paynesville Hospital, where she was released the morning of Thanksgiving Day.
The woman, the church custodian, provided a description of Knutson and his vehicle. She had given Knutson a tour of the church and directions to Bemidji before he physically and sexually assaulted her.
Knutson was arrested in Cosmos, about 45 miles southeast of the Crow River church, after Police Chief Brent Schroeder pulled him over for a traffic violation and realized Knutson and his car matched the descriptions given by the victim.
Knutson told police that the Crow River church was the third he had been to that day and said he got angry that the woman had lied to him when he asked for money after the tour.
He shoved the woman into a wall, punched her and sexually assaulted her. He left with her purse, throwing items from her purse out of the car as he drove away.
Knutson is being held in Kandiyohi County Jail on a $500,000 cash bond.
Lisa Solbreken, a church employee, said Tuesday that the victim "is healing and receiving lots of support. She's pretty bruised up. It's just hard for us to understand up here why he was ever let out."
Assistant Kandiyohi County Attorney Connie Crowell called Knutson "an extreme danger to public safety" adding that "they don't get much more dangerous than this," according to court records.
Knutson notified Barron County and sex registry officials when he moved to Rice Lake in May, but state and county officials are not required to notify the particular municipality where a sex offender is residing, according to DOC officials.
Law enforcement officials have a secure site to view daily which sex offenders are listed in their jurisdictions.
Barron County police had about a dozen contacts with Knutson this year, including as a suspect in a sexual assault, according to Rice Lake Police Chief John Sommerfeld.
Knutson was living in an apartment at 1735 McCauley Ave. in Rice Lake when he was questioned May 16 about reportedly grabbing a woman's breast. The woman became a reluctant witness and said she was moving out of state, so the reports were not forwarded to the district attorney, Sommerfeld said.
Knutson, 6-foot-1, 260 pounds, was diagnosed with Paraphilia, a sexual disorder that often includes humiliating victims or making them suffer. He also told authorities most of his victims were juveniles and strangers.
Wisconsin officials say there are nearly 20,000 sex offenders registered in Wisconsin, with more than 5,000 on probation or parole.