Victor Barnard, the onetime religious cult leader serving a 30-year term for sexually assaulting two girls from among his followers, was severely beaten in his prison cell in east-central Minnesota in early January by another inmate who said the attack was divinely inspired, according to charges filed Thursday.
Violent career criminal Shane M. Kringen, 44, was charged in Chisago County District Court with first-degree assault in connection with the Jan. 8 attack in the Rush City prison.
When authorities led Kringen from that area of the prison, he explained that he “was doing God’s work,” the charging document read.
One of Barnard’s attorneys, Marsh Halberg, said Barnard is now at another prison and still has difficulties from the assault.
“My law partner Dave Risk and I went to visit Mr. Barnard recently at Oak Park Heights,” Halberg said. “He did not recognize us and called us by other names. … He had no memory of the months held in custody in Pine County [jail] and had hearing and vision problems when trying to communicate with us.”
Halberg said Barnard resides in the medical wing, which is separate from the traditional prison section.
Barnard was fearful of being assaulted while at the Pine County jail, as well, and was in solitary confinement there for a while for his own protection. But the danger increased once he was moved to the Rush City prison, Halberg said.
According to the criminal complaint:
Video showed Kringen enter the 55-year-old Barnard’s cell shortly after Barnard went in. Kringen left about a minute later.
State prison cells generally are unlocked during certain times of day; inmates can choose to be alone in their cell or socialize with others in a common area. The cells and common area are under watch by prison guards, but the guards can’t watch every cell at every moment, Halberg said
A corrections officer went in during a security check and found Barnard bleeding. He was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul with broken bones in his face, rib fractures, facial cuts, traumatic brain injury, a collapsed lung and respiratory failure.
On Jan. 24, Kringen was read his rights by an investigator and declined to give a statement. A week later, prison officials confiscated a letter Kringen had written that acknowledged attacking Barnard. It said he stopped once Barnard was unconscious.
Barnard and his followers moved from the Twin Cities to rural Pine County in the 1990s to establish their own “utopia” — a self-sufficient community where members raised their own food, sewed their own clothes and funded the operation with a string of businesses.
Barnard coaxed families in the River Road Fellowship to send their daughters to him, promising that the “maidens” would live lives of prayer and purity. Years later, two girls turned to Pine County authorities for help.
Kringen, whose last address outside of prison was in Crookston, has been in trouble with the law for violent offenses for nearly his entire life, including in western Wisconsin. His most serious convictions in Minnesota have been for third-degree criminal sexual conduct, numerous acts of assault, burglary, drug possession, criminal property damage and drunken driving.
He’s currently incarcerated on convictions in Polk County for drug possession and witness tampering. Corrections records list his release date as Aug. 7, 2019, but a conviction in the assault on Barnard would change that.
He’s scheduled for a court appearance on April 24 in connection with the attack on Barnard.