A man who went on a shooting and raping spree in a Woodbury motel in August will serve at least 24 years in prison after pleading guilty on Thursday to five felony counts.
Demetrius S. Ballinger, 26, of North St. Paul, held 11 people hostage after a party went sour in the Red Roof Inn on Aug. 31. Armed with a handgun, he shot 19-year-old Mark Eric Henderson Jr., who was trying to escape, and raped four teenage girls at gunpoint.
In the confusion during an hours-long standoff, Henderson staggered from the room and was shot by three Woodbury police officers. He died later that day at Regions Hospital. A grand jury issued a “no bill” after reviewing the case, meaning there was no evidence officers broke the law.
Appearing before Judge Ellen Maas in Washington County District Court, Ballinger pleaded guilty to one count of attempted second-degree intentional murder and four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Under the plea agreement, 22 other felony counts were dismissed. Ballinger will serve a 36-year sentence but will be eligible for release after 24 years if he behaves himself in prison. “He can pay for his criminal behavior. This is a good outcome for all of us,” said County Attorney Pete Orput.
“Fair and just” was how defense attorney Ahren Johnson described the sentence. The agreement was under discussion for months, he said.
Prosecutor Siv Yurichuk of Orput’s office said the girls Ballinger raped that night don’t like to leave their houses now and fear he will escape from prison and harm them. One was 15 and three were 16. “The girls have been suffering tremendously the last nine months,” she said.
Victims’ family members declined to comment as they left the courtroom.
Pam King, a second attorney representing Ballinger, said in court that he had been “doing drugs” that day before he began a night of terror. “You understood that what you did was wrong?” she asked him.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said.
Woodbury police detective Chris Rheault, a member of the Washington County hostage negotiation team, had talked with Ballinger by phone several times the night of the siege. Rheault said after Thursday’s hearing that Ballinger was “up and down” emotionally that night and said, “I know I’m going to jail, so I might as well take them with me.”
Rheault said he kept Ballinger distracted from shooting other hostages by talking about Ballinger’s son and his role as a father and otherwise trying to calm him.
“I attributed his behavior to drugs, alcohol, the length of the night, the severity of it,” Rheault said.
Ballinger will appear in court for sentencing on Oct. 7. He has been held at the Washington County jail but now will be moved to St. Cloud prison, Johnson said.
Kevin Giles 651-925-5037