Vulnerable, tortured, left for dead

A mentally disabled man from Lakeville was tied to a tree, savagely beaten over 2 days and dragged, said officials and his mom. Four men are charged.

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Jonathon Michael Diepold, 22, was among four defendants who appeared in court today at the Dakota County Government Center in Hastings in a case involving the beating of a mentally disabled man.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Authorities say four men lured a 24-year-old mentally disabled man from his Lakeville home to a remote Dakota County area, where they tortured him for hours on two days last weekend. Criminal complaints say the torture included tying him to a tree, beating him and burning him with cigarette lighters. His mother said she was told he also was tied to a motorcycle and dragged for 200 feet.

The torture ended after he was knocked unconscious and left for dead on the second day.

The four were charged Tuesday in connection with the incidents and were being held in the Dakota County jail. One of those charged is employed by a Northfield organization that works with disabled adults. Authorities say the motive for the assault may involve a 16-year-old girl whom the disabled man had recently befriended.

As Justin Hamilton recovers at home under close medical monitoring, his mother, Carolyn Hamilton, said his body is entirely black and blue. He may lose sight in one eye and has broken ribs and possible kidney damage. But it's the emotional effects on her son, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, that may stay with him the rest of his life, she said.

"He's absolutely, completely terrified," she said of her son, whom she adopted. "It's life-changing for someone like Justin, the way he lives and his exposure to other people. It makes his life smaller."

Dakota County sheriff's officials repeatedly used "savage" to describe the assaults. The four men were charged late Tuesday afternoon with a string of felonies that include third- and fourth-degree assault, false imprisonment and theft. Additional charges against the men, as well as the 16-year-old girl, are expected today, authorities said.

Jonathon Michael Diepold, 22; Glen Richard Ries, 33; John Maxwell Maniglia, 19, all of Northfield, and Timothy John Ketterling, 22, of Prior Lake, remained in the Dakota County jail Tuesday night in lieu of $100,000 bail each. Ries works for a Northfield organization that serves disabled adults.

"I've seen the photographs from this particular beating, and in nearly 30 years of law enforcement, the level of beating this man took was savage. It was just savage," said Dave Bellows, chief deputy with the Dakota County Sheriff's Office. "To think that you have these adult men beating on someone they know has got some mental issues, in my view it's just a whole new level of cowardice."

According to charges filed late Tuesday in Dakota County District Court, a seriously injured Justin Hamilton, identified in court documents as J.C.H., told Northfield police on Sunday that he was beaten on two consecutive nights by two men he knew as "John and Max," later identified as Diepold and Maniglia.

Driven to country, then home

Hamilton told authorities that the assaults began when Ketterling drove him and the 16-year-old girl to somewhere in the country. There, Diepold and Maniglia began accusing Hamilton of assaulting the girl, though authorities say there is no evidence of that. They knocked him to the ground and beat him for several hours, according to the complaints. Afterward, Hamilton said, Ketterling drove the group to Hamilton's home, where he lives with an older brother, and demanded money or property. Hamilton offered them Xbox games, and Diepold and Maniglia later entered the home and left with the games, police said. It's unclear whether Hamilton's brother knew what had happened.

The next night, according to the criminal complaints, Hamilton was in downtown Northfield with the 16-year-old girl when Diepold and Maniglia showed up in a truck driven by Ries and forced him inside before driving back to the same rural area. There, according to complaints, they bound him to a tree with a belt, burned him with the lighter, heated credit card and beat him to unconsciousness.

"He kept blacking out," Carolyn Hamilton said. "The last thing he remembers is they were going to set him on fire and leave him to die in the woods."

When Justin Hamilton awoke, his assailants were gone, his mother said. He walked down the highway until he was picked up by a passing trucker.

Hamilton's wallet in truck

After interviewing Justin Hamilton, police spotted a pickup driven by Ries, in which Diepold and Maniglia were passengers. After the arrest and a search of Ries' truck, a baton was found, as was Hamilton's wallet.

Police said the four suspects told them they drove Hamilton to the remote area, where he was beaten and tortured.

Though Ries denied being actively involved, the other suspects said that he was aware of why Hamilton was driven to the location and that he provided the baton to Diepold. He also served as a lookout, according to the charges.

Sandra Gerdes, executive director of Laura Baker Services Association in Northfield, learned about the beating and Ries' arrest from news reports Tuesday.

"I'm still trying to process it all,'' she said.

Ries has worked for the association for more than a year, providing daily support for some of the residents 16 years and older who live on the group's Northfield campus. "[Ries] helps them get up and get ready for school and work and then provides support to them when they get home,'' she said. "He has a very gentle demeanor with the clients. He tends to be calm and quiet."

Gerdes said she hasn't received any reports that he has abused residents on the campus. And Ries passed two criminal background checks, she said.

Gerdes said Ries hasn't worked since Friday or Saturday. "We're going to need to look into this,'' she said.

A 'defenseless individual'

Carolyn Hamilton said restraining orders have been filed against the men. In the meantime, she hopes her son, a graduate of Prior Lake High school whom she describes as an art and music savant, will recover.

"When somebody's kicked and stomped and just black and blue, you worry about the long-term effects of this, physically and mentally," she said. "When you get to the point where they discuss burning you alive, it has its effects. As a parent, I'm outraged. You tell them to watch out for bad strangers, but you don't think at 24 you worry about those kinds of things."

Bellows found the level of violence hard to comprehend.

"We're professionals, and we deal with this stuff every day, but then you see the level of savagery against this defenseless individual."

asimons@startribune.com • 612-673-4921 marylynn.smith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788

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