April 26, 2018 10:46 PM
Hundreds of domestic abusers in Minnesota, who would have served years in prison had judges followed the state's sentencing guidelines, walked free after spending just months, weeks or days in jail, a 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS INVESTIGATION has found.
In dozens of cases, judges sentenced those felony abusers to no time at all behind bars, according to court records and the most recent data from the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS analyzed sentences for domestic abusers with the worst criminal records - including multiple domestic violence related offenses - who committed felony violations of restraining orders.
Those offenders should have been sent to prison for at least two years, according to the sentencing guidelines. Under state law, they could have been sentenced to five years in prison.
However, data obtained from the guidelines commission show judges disregarded the recommended prison sentences in nearly 400 cases - roughly one out of every three - from 2012 to 2016.
The guidelines were created to maintain rational and consistent sentencing standards, according to the state. But judges are not required to follow them. In several cases, abusers who were not sent to prison went on to assault, rape and stab victims.
Stabbed in the Back
In 2014, Yvonne Day was stabbed in the back by her boyfriend, Lawrence Hicks, during an assault outside a Minneapolis apartment building.
"My legs locked up and I dropped to the ground and I knew that Lawrence paralyzed me," Day, 31, said in a recent interview.
Hicks, 31, is currently serving a 19-year sentence for that assault. He would have already been in prison at the time of the stabbing had a judge followed the sentencing guidelines in a previous case.
Several months before the stabbing, Hicks violated a restraining order Day had obtained.
It was a felony violation under state law because Hicks had previously been convicted of two domestic violence related offenses involving other women, including domestic assault and a separate restraining order violation.
Hicks' extensive criminal record meant he should have gone to prison for at least two years, according to the sentencing guidelines.
However, Hennepin County Judge Kathryn Quaintance stayed Hicks' prison sentence and sent him to jail for less than six months.
Hicks stabbed Day shortly after his release from jail.
More than three years later, Day is still confined to a wheelchair with little-to-no-feeling below the waist.
"Lots of therapy," Day said as she struggled to lift her left leg inches off the chair's footrest. "It hurts, but I can move it so that's progress."
She said the judge's decision not to send Hicks to prison for the restraining order violation "was not acceptable."
Judge Quaintance, who declined to be interviewed for this story, listed Hicks' remorse as a reason for not sending him to prison.
A spokesperson with the Hennepin County Attorney's Office said in a statement that prosecutors did their best by convincing Hicks to plead guilty because Day was "reluctant to participate" in the investigation.
That happens often in such domestic violence cases, Paul Young, an Assistant Anoka County Attorney, said.
"It's not uncommon, despite a history of abuse by an offender, where a victim comes to us and says, 'Don't send him to prison,'" Young said. "We have to be considerate of their request."
Pete Orput, the Washington County Attorney, said he is sympathetic to victims who are afraid to cooperate because they fear retaliation or are financially dependent on their abusers.
But he draws a hard line when it comes to the prosecution of repeat domestic abusers like the felons identified by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.
"I still have to stop the violence and sometimes the only way to do it is to put the guy in a cage," Orput said.
In Minnesota, judges have given domestic abusers who violate restraining orders second, third and fourth chances, according to court records.
A woman in Winona County was convicted of violating a restraining order 13 times from 2011 to 2014 - including six felony convictions that should have led to prison sentences had the guidelines been followed.
Yet Judge Mary Leahy continuously put the woman on probation, or in jail for short periods of time.
Leahy has departed from the sentencing guidelines in 90 percent of cases (10 out of 11) involving felony restraining order violations since 2012, according to the most recent state data.
Leahy defended her decision to depart from the guidelines, saying her record reflects victims' wishes and compromises reached between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
"In order to fully understand the statistics you must examine the facts of each case," Leahy wrote in an email.
Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, said it is concerning when judges routinely choose not to send abusers to prison because repeat violations of restraining orders are "indicators of higher risk" for the victims.
In several cases, the violence escalated after judges chose to not send abusers to prison.
Bryan Beckwith was convicted of a felony restraining order violation in 2011 but was put on probation instead of being sent to prison. Four years later, he broke into a home in Eagan and slammed his son's mother against the wall, according to a criminal complaint.
Beckwith, 36, pleaded guilty to domestic assault and was sentenced to nearly three years in prison.
Jeremiah Loeb was not sent to prison for violating a restraining order in 2011. He was later convicted of attempted murder after he strangled and repeatedly raped his girlfriend in a Minneapolis apartment. Loeb, 38, is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence for that crime.
And Hicks left Day in a pool of her own blood, begging for help.
Orput said such cases are examples of the potential consequences for victims, and the reason he believes the sentencing guidelines should be followed when it involves domestic abuse.
"There needs to be some accountability or he will not stop."
Those seeking help when it comes to situations involving domestic abuse are encouraged to call the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women at 1-866-223-1111.
Ryan Raiche & Joe Augustine
Updated: April 26, 2018 10:46 PM
Created: April 23, 2018 12:15 PM
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