Accused cult leader pleads guilty to sexual assaults

Victor Barnard pleads guilty to sex assault

PINE CITY, Minn. - He was one of the most wanted fugitives in America at one point. In a Pine County courtroom Tuesday, Victor Barnard finally admitted his guilt.

The accused cult leader agreed to spend 30 years in prison after sexually assaulting at least two girls while leading the River Road Fellowship in the mid 1990’s.

"I would say it’s the most unusual case I ever had,” said Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson. "Even that he’s agreeing to a maximum sentence is unusual.”

Prosecutors originally charged Barnard with 59 assault charges but he pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal sexual conduct. Frederickson says the prison time Barnard agreed to is almost as long as if he had been prosecuted on all counts

"Both of our victims approve with the plea agreement in this case. So it gives them a sense of closure,” he said.

Barnard, 55, convinced followers to send their daughters to live with him outside of Finlayson, saying he was "Christ in the flesh", according to court records.

After the victims, now adults, came forward, police moved in two years ago. But Barnard fled, which then set off an international man-hunt. Authorities finally captured him last year in Brazil.

"The best statement of his remorse was his action in court today by stepping up and pleading guilty to 30 years in prison,” said Barnard’s attorney Dave Risk.

The victims and the community will not have to relive the details of a painful time.

"Essentially their childhoods were erased by this but they were adamant in seeking justice,” he said. "This closes a rather dark chapter for the count.”  

One of the survivors, Lindsay Tornambe told KARE 11 last year after authorities arrested Barnard that she wanted justice.   

"I hope he doesn't ever come out of jail,” Tornambe said.

Sentencing is scheduled for October 28.


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