Joseph L. Larson never admitted he abused two foster children, but Ramsey County District Judge Joanne Smith said if the case had gone to a jury she expects he would have been found guilty.

Smith also said she would have given him a longer prison sentence than the 12 years she handed down Tuesday.

Smith said there was no reason to think the boys, now 17 and 23, made up the claims. The 17-year-old lived with Larson from 2002 to 2005 and the 23-year-old lived with him for three months in 2003, but they didn't tell anyone about the abuse until years later.

"I am left with the belief that it did happen," Smith said.

Larson, 34, likely will serve five years in prison before being conditionally released. He also will be required to register as a predatory offender.

On the day his May trial was scheduled to start, Larson struck a deal with prosecutors and submitted what is known as an Alford plea to two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. By doing so, he doesn't admit the criminal act and asserts his innocence but acknowledges the prosecution has sufficient evidence to convict him. Two other sexual misconduct charges and a felony child pornography possession charge from Anoka County were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Ramsey County prosecutor Eric Leonard told Smith in advance of the sentencing that Larson continued to insist the boys are lying.

Larson's attorney, Katie Rindfleisch, said, "He has admitted to having troublesome thoughts" and is looking forward to his prison term so he can address those issues.

Before his sentencing, Larson told Smith his wish for his accusers is that they have "stability, peace and serenity."

"I feel terrible for what I did do," Larson said.

Smith told Larson his statement in court, "if it can be called an apology," was all about the negative consequences he has suffered and less about the damage to the boys.

Lora Pabst • 612-916-7212 Twitter: @lorapabst