LUVERNE -- A 77-year-old Luverne man who admitted to having a sexual relationship with his adopted daughter and fathering her two children was sentenced Thursday in Rock County District Court.
Leo Swenson, who was first arrested in October 2008 and charged with one count each of first- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct, was sentenced to 18 months in jail, with that time stayed on the condition that he serve 365 days. He will receive credit for time already served at Nobles County Jail, where he will be incarcerated for the remainder of his prison term.
Additionally, Swenson will be allowed no contact with both the victim as well as her two children, and will not be allowed unsupervised contact with minors.
The sentencing hearing began with testimony from Heather Bajema, a doctor employed with Southwest Mental Health Center. Defense attorney Daniel Birkholz questioned Bajema about her visits with Swenson.
"At times he is willing to be very candid and at times he doesn't ... is that correct?" Birkholz asked.
"Yes," Bajema replied. She added later that she would "have real reservations about him having contact with his children unsupervised" and that, if he were to see his children, it should be with someone other than a family member present.
"The question here is whether there should be a prohibition of contact with minors," Rock County Assistant Attorney Jeff Haubrich said minutes later. "I think it would be completely inappropriate to allow contact at this time."
Swenson's sexual relationship with his adopted daughter, according to the victim, began when she was 13. When first asked by an investigator about sexual contact between him and the victim, he said he could not recall any specific details, but did not deny he could be the father of the children. The victim had alleged the sexual relationship continued until last October, when she left home.
In a brief statement at the sentencing, Swenson expressed remorse.
"I'm really sorry this happened," said Swenson, whose thin, scratchy voice made him nearly inaudible. "I was wrong, and I apologize to everyone. It shouldn't have been done, and that's all I can say."
Following his October arrest, Swenson was charged in January with violating an order for protection filed by the victim, allegedly attempting to contact her by phone through a third party. Swenson pleaded guilty to the probation violation in February and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, with all but the time served stayed. His sentence Thursday includes 15 years of probation, and also requires his registration as a sex offender.
No victim impact statements were made during sentencing, though there were written notes received from the victim as well as Swenson's wife, Mary.
Birkholz took time during the hearing to relate "what really happened here and how it happened." He said that when the victim turned 16 years old, she moved into her adopted parents' bedroom -- where she would remain for 15 more years while Swenson's wife eventually moved to the couch. The relationship between Swenson and the adopted daughter ended, Birhkolz added, when the victim "found a boyfriend and moved in with him."
Birkholz said he didn't see his client as "sexually psychotic ... or dangerous" and also requested a staggered sentence for Swenson that would have placed him in jail three months a year, citing Swenson's advanced age and physical disabilities as reasons. That request by Birkholz, who called the case "sad and unfortunate," was denied by Judge Timothy Connell.
"This is so far from what any person may conceive as normal ... but there is nothing about his (Swenson's) conduct that anybody should see as appropriate," Connell said.