The Minneapolis woman who outsmarted her three attackers and escaped after an hourslong kidnapping and sexual assault in 2017 told a court Thursday that while she struggles daily, she is healing and "taking every day in stride."
The woman, who agreed through a Hennepin County victim advocate to be publicly identified as Kristin T., did not appear in court as the ringleader of the attack, Deonte D. Lawson, was sentenced. But she submitted a written victim impact statement read aloud by the advocate, asking that Lawson be sent to prison for the rest of his life.
"I am smarter, braver and stronger than Mr. Lawson ever counted on," the woman said in her letter. "I am a survivor. And I know I am not his first victim, but I am going to make damn sure I am his last."
Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu sentenced Lawson to life in prison without the possibility of parole after admonishing his actions and rebuking him for treating his trial earlier this month as a "joke."
"Mr. Lawson, what you did … was abominable," Chu said. "Your acts were beyond reprehensible, and I can't imagine why you would do such things. Well, it's no joke that you'll be spending the rest of your life in prison."
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Dan Allard said afterward that Lawson smiled in court while the woman's statements about her bravery were read aloud.
"He has been like that throughout the trial," Allard said. "It's really hard to get a read on why he's doing that."
Jurors convicted Lawson, 24, of Minneapolis, in early May of two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and one count of kidnapping.
According to the criminal complaints in the case: Lawson led the attack on Kristin T., who was in her 20s, and two juveniles participated. Those men — Wayne Armstrong and Darrius D. Freeman, both now 18 — have been convicted of their roles and await sentencing.
Kristin T. was getting something out of the trunk of her car in Uptown either late on Oct. 15 or very early on Oct. 16 when the men forced her at gunpoint to get into the back seat of her vehicle.
They drove around in her vehicle, using her credit cards to buy food at White Castle. They also used her credit cards at some point to make purchases at other stores.
The men drove to a secluded, wooded area believed to be in Minneapolis where they sexually assaulted her. They then drove to a rural area near Scandia in Washington County, where authorities believe Kristin T. would have been killed had she not tricked them and escaped barefoot into the night.
"We're convinced that if she hadn't escaped on her own … they would have killed her," Allard said. "Thankfully, she was smart enough, tough enough and brave enough. She really is an impressive woman."
Kristin T. escaped by convincing Lawson he needed to stop for gas. She jumped out of the moving vehicle as he pulled into a closed gas station, ran barefoot into the woods and hid behind a tree until her assailants gave up looking for her and left, the charges said.
She contacted tenants living above the gas station, and called 911 about 4:26 a.m. on Oct. 16.
Kristin T. said the ordeal left her unable to work, volunteer, engage with family members and friends or participate in holidays and social activities.
"For more than a year, I lived my life paralyzed in fear and anxiety," she said. "I had panic attacks any time I wanted to leave my apartment, and had flashbacks any time I got into a car. I slept with a knife next to my bed, and had nightmares almost every time I fell asleep."
She said she missed out on career opportunities as she healed from a concussion, and still hasn't regained her "sharpness and focus."
Lawson expressed no remorse and offered no explanation for his actions when given the opportunity to address the court before his sentencing.
He spoke briefly: "Thank you for this opportunity — for trial — that's all."
Kristin T. said she is proud of her progress, thanks in part to the people in her life, and would not let the crime define her.
"The physical and emotional scars I have from my attack will never go away, but they will always be there to remind me of how strong I have become," Kristin T. said in her victim impact statement. "Everything I have gone through will always be a part of me now for the rest of my life, but it doesn't define who I am and it won't dictate my future."