BUFFALO, MINN. - Alexander Tuomisto, 24, choked up as he pled for mercy Friday in a packed Wright County courtroom.
He said he never intended to harm Adam Baker when he punched him once outside a St. Michael, Minn., bar last May -- a blow that ultimately led to Baker's death.
"I am sure he was a wonderful person," Tuomisto said. "I am a good person. ... I want a second chance. I don't want to go to prison."
While District Judge Kathleen Mottl appeared moved by the pleas of Tuomisto and his parents, she said that "when all is said and done, Alex is alive" and his parents will not have to go to the cemetery to visit him.
She sentenced Tuomisto to five years in prison, of which he will have to serve at least three years and four months. It was the maximum sentence spelled out by a February plea agreement. He must also pay up to $20,000 restitution for expenses Baker's family incurred while he lay seven months in a coma.
The second-floor courtroom was jammed with 80 supporters of both the victim and the defendant filling every seat. Another dozen people stood in the courtroom, and 30 more who could not get in stood in the corridor.
Mottl said she could not recall ever seeing so many people attend such a hearing.
As he heard his sentence, Tuomisto, dressed in a dark suit, looked down sadly and appeared to bite his lip. When court was adjourned, Tuomisto's mother, Joanne, wailed uncontrollably, her head resting on the shoulder of her husband, Pete.
Perhaps the most emotional moment came when Laurie Roufs, who described herself as Baker's domestic partner, fought tears during a lengthy victim-impact statement, telling Mottl, "Alex stole my life from me, the love of my life."
Roufs read from a diary she had written at his bedside while he lay unconscious. "God, I need Adam," she wrote. "Please bring him back to us. ... Lord Jesus, bring us a miracle."
After the sentencing, Roufs read a statement to the media on behalf of herself and Baker's family, saying "I don't believe Alex intended to kill Adam. I do believe he intended to harm him."
She said she hoped that when freed he would do "something special with his life." She said that would have made Baker happy. She said she and Tuomisto's mother briefly consoled each other after the sentencing.
Baker, 32, was a Stillwater native and Delta Airlines employee who lived in Ohio but visited Roufs in Minnesota every weekend. He was about to receive a master's degree in aviation management from the University of North Dakota, where he was once student body president.
Tuomisto, a graduate of Mankato State University, lived above the Corner Bar in St. Michael.
Baker and Tuomisto did not know each other. The brawl broke out in the bar around 1:30 a.m. and then continued outside. Neither man was involved in the original struggle.
County Attorney Tom Kelly argued that Tuomisto minimized what he did by claiming that he interceded on behalf of a friend and that Baker swung at Tuomisto first. But Kelly, citing witnesses, said Tuomisto attacked Baker without warning, striking him from behind. Baker fell, and his head hit the pavement.
Defense attorney Francis Rondoni accused Kelly of "cherry-picking" witnesses' statements. He said those statements were not consistent and that Tuomisto had received a "glancing blow" from Baker.
Kelly told the judge that a five-year sentence was appropriate rather that the seven years recommended by state guidelines for first-degree assault. "One punch usually does not result in great bodily harm or death," Kelly said, adding he believed "Mr. Tuomisto, in his heart, would not have intended to cause great bodily harm or death."
Rondoni asked that Tuomisto's sentence be delayed 14 days, but Kelly objected, and Mottl ordered him taken into custody immediately.
As he walked briskly away from the courthouse, Tuomisto's father, Pete, spoke briefly to reporters. "We're just heartbroken about it," he said. "But we have to live with it. Alex is a good man, and it's just unbelievably sad."
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382