Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Bjerknes' attorney asks for lesser sentence in child porn case

BEMIDJI—Recent documents in the federal case against a former Bemidji Middle School assistant principal who used social media to prey on his students paint dramatically different pictures of Brandon Mark Bjerknes, and argue for dramatically different prison sentences.

Bjerknes' attorney, Peter Wold, and the U.S. Attorney's Office both submitted arguments for their preferred sentences Jan. 2, a month before the former administrator is set to appear in federal court.

Wold asked that Bjerknes receive a sentence of 15 years, while prosecutors requested a 30-year prison term.

Brandon Bjerknes

Bjerknes admitted in September to using decoy Facebook and Snapchat accounts to have sexual conversations with multiple minors, some as young as 12. He used the name "Brett Larson" on the accounts and told his victims he was a teenage boy who lived in Duluth, then convinced them to send him sexually explicit pictures.

The three-year-long scheme was discovered when one of the victim's parents found the conversations on their child's phone and reported it to law enforcement. Bjerknes was subsequently charged in state district court with four counts of engaging in electronic communication relating to or describing sexual conduct with a child, and in U.S. district court with one count of coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in sexual conduct and one count of production of child pornography.

In the document arguing for the 15-year sentence, which is substantially lower than the prison term recommended by the presentence report, Bjerknes' attorney Wold wrote that his client has taken responsibility for his actions and hopes to eventually be rehabilitated.

In the document, Wold references Bjerknes' "acceptance of responsibility statement," which reads, in part:

"I understand how serious my crime is and how much I have hurt the victims, their families, school and the entire community...Even after my sentence, I will continue with treatment to ensure I am healthy. I will strive to once again have a positive impact on this world and work to earn back the trust that has disappeared."

Wold also argued that a 15-year sentence, a lifetime of supervision and the publicity Bjerknes' case has received is enough of a deterrent and will prevent his client from re-offending.

"His crime has brought great shame on him and his family," Wold wrote. "Mr. Bjerknes does not want his family to be put through the public humiliation they have experienced ever again."

But prosecutors Gregory Booker and Angela Munoz-Kaphing don't believe Bjerknes has taken full responsibility for his actions, as he had not signed a form declaring his net worth, as of Jan. 2.

"The Defendant claims he is 'unaware of his specific financial information,'" the prosecutors wrote in their own statement recommending a 30-year sentence. "It is the Defendant's responsibility to ensure that the Probation Officer received basic financial information."

The document also included transcripts of the sexually explicit conversations Bjerknes had with the children, and claims that he used his position as a Bemidji Middle School administrator to determine which of his students were the most vulnerable. Bjerknes then convinced his victims to share private information with him and "leveraged" that information to sexually exploit the children, the document said.

"He knew which students had behavior, cognitive, and/or social issues, and he used that information to his advantage," the prosecutors wrote. "Multiple victims told him they practice self-harm, cutting behaviors; two victims reported that they were transgender and in the process of transitioning genders; and other victims shared information about stressful situations at home."

The prosecutors frequently called Bjerknes and his crimes "depraved."

"There is no evidence that Bjerknes reached out...for help in stopping his predatory actions," the document reads. "He was stopped only because his actions and words were finally viewed by someone other than Bjerknes and his minor victims."

Bjerknes is scheduled to appear in federal court for sentencing Feb. 6 and in state district court for sentencing Feb. 8.

Grace Pastoor

Grace Pastoor covers crime, courts and social issues for the Bemidji Pioneer. Contact her at (218) 333-9796 or gpastoor@bemidjipioneer.com

(218) 333-9796
Advertisement
randomness