By Stephen J. Lee
PARK RAPIDS — A former Lutheran minister from the Bemidji area was sentenced Friday to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting a teen-aged step-daughter many times over three years.
Darwin Schauer, 71, asked for mercy from the court and made a sort of apology, said Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne, who prosecuted him in a Park Rapids, Minn., courtroom.
“I didn’t take his apology as sincere,” Dearstyne told the Grand Forks Herald Friday.
The victim attended the sentencing and her victim impact statement was read by one of Dearstyne’s assistants.
Under state rules, Schauer will serve at least 20 years of the sentence and will have a lifetime of supervised probation when released, said Dearstyne, a former police officer and defense attorney in Grand Forks.
Three weeks ago, a jury convicted Schauer of two counts each of first-degree, second-degree and third-degree criminal sexual conduct starting in spring 2009. The first-degree convictions each have maximum prison sentences of 30 years.
Schauer retired several years ago as lay pastor in Trinity Lutheran in Lake George — between Itasca Park and Bemidji — and Immanuel Lutheran in Cass Lake, Minn.
His arrest earlier this year stirred debate within regional circles of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
The Rev. Don Kirchner, who succeeded Schauer at the two congregations, learned of and reported the sexual assaults last spring. Talking to Schauer in jail, Kirchner learned that Schauer had previously been convicted of a similar sex crime while an administrator of an LC-MS elementary school in southern Minnesota.
Kirchner began questioning regional church leaders about why they allowed Schauer to continue serving as a pastor and why they didn’t tell him or congregational members. On Lutheran blogs, Kirchner wrote that he believed regional church leaders were not honest with him.
Dearstyne said he wasn’t able to establish a previous pattern of sexual crimes in Schauer’s past. But he said the judge Friday cited the 1983 conviction as an example of the manipulative way Schauer treated his victims and the court system.
Last month after attending the trial, Kirchner told the Herald via email: “I am awestruck by the courage of the victim who came forward to testify to the years of rape that she suffered, that necessitated stating in graphic detail and in front of him, what Darwin Schauer did to her.
“I am devastated by the destruction of a family by the actions of a man who felt entitled to do the appalling things that he did. Yet I am encouraged by a brave young Christian woman who now is able to put this behind her and go on with her life, knowing in Whose hands she remains.”
By Stephen J. Lee