PINE CITY, MINN. — Defense attorneys for former religious leader and accused rapist Victor Barnard said Tuesday that they are questioning whether the statute of limitations in his sexual assault case has expired.
Barnard, 54, was charged in April 2014 with 59 counts of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct after two of his former River Road Fellowship followers told authorities two years earlier that he had sexually abused them for years starting at ages 12 and 13.
Defense attorney Marsh Halberg said Tuesday after a brief court hearing in Pine County District Court that he and defense attorney David Risk believe there was a prior report made on Barnard from a mandated reporter that would have started the legal clock for filing charges earlier than 2012.
Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson said Tuesday that he couldn’t discuss details on the case against Barnard, but said, “there hasn’t been a direct victim report prior to 2012.” Such a report is needed to start the legal clock for filing charges, he said.
Frederickson, who was not the county attorney when reports were made, said the statute of limitations in such cases is three years from when a report is filed or nine years from when an incident occurred, whichever is later.
The timing issue was among the first of several that defense attorneys raised outside the courtroom on Tuesday, after Barnard appeared briefly before District Judge Krista Martin.
Wearing blue sweat clothes, his hands cuffed, Barnard carried a thick folder of papers during the hearing, occasionally taking off, then putting on, his glasses. He spoke only twice, saying “yes” when asked by Risk whether he understood his rights to a speedy trial and whether he was waiving those rights.
Barnard allegedly persuaded parents in the isolated community that he’d gathered near Finlayson to send 10 young women and girls to live together near his home, in a position of honor as his “maidens.” Two of those former maidens came forward with details of abuse, forming the basis of the charges against Barnard.
When charges were filed in 2014, authorities believed Barnard and some of his followers had moved to Washington state. The charges sparked an international manhunt that briefly put Barnard on the U.S. marshals’ most-wanted list.
After authorities found him in Brazil, Barnard spent more than a year in a prison cell there while awaiting extradition to Minnesota, which happened last month.Halberg said Barnard had been at the jail door, his belongings packed for extradition, three times before he was moved back to Minnesota.
He said defense attorneys have some concerns about the process of the original extradition warrant.
Barnard was in Brazil for personal reasons and was not fleeing, they argue, noting that he had taken commercial flights to South America.
They said their client, now in the Pine County jail with a couple of other offenders who are separated from the general population for safety reasons, is “sharper and clearer” each time they see him.
In the hearing, Halberg notified the judge that Barnard was requesting a King James version of the Bible, instead of the Gideon version available to him at the jail.
Frederickson filed a list of 45 potential witnesses for the state, including law enforcement and fellowship followers.The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 1, when Barnard will likely be asked to enter a plea.