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Brookston woman sentenced to 25 years for fatally stabbing aunt

Dawn LaPrairie didn't just lose her 31-year-old daughter to a fatal stabbing. She also lost her granddaughter to prison. LaPrairie, along with about a dozen other family members, endured an emotional sentencing hearing Thursday as they struggled ...

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Lydia Barney

Dawn LaPrairie didn’t just lose her 31-year-old daughter to a fatal stabbing. She also lost her granddaughter to prison.
LaPrairie, along with about a dozen other family members, endured an emotional sentencing hearing Thursday as they struggled to understand the events that caused Lydia Marie Barney to attack her aunt, Waubunoquay Dawn Randall, with a knife last fall.
“It’s like throwing a big rock in the middle of a lake,” said LaPrairie, the matriarch of the family. “It affects everybody. It just ripples.”
Barney, 22, was equally emotional and issued an apology to her family. But she couldn’t offer an explanation for her actions on Oct. 19 on the Fond du Lac Indian Reservation.
Judge Sally Tarnowski sentenced Barney to 25½ years in prison on a second-degree intentional murder charge.
The prison term, which fell in the middle of the sentencing guidelines, was the minimum amount requested by the family.
“In a tragic case like this, to reach a resolution pretty quickly is always best,” Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Jessica Fralich said afterward. “Hopefully the family will have the opportunity to push forward and find some peace.”
Randall, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, was found dead by her family in her Stoney Brook Township home. An autopsy determined that she had sustained lacerations to her neck.
Randall was last seen the previous evening with Barney, who eventually became the prime suspect after Randall’s husband was initially arrested.
Barney has said that she can’t recall the events that led up to the killing. But she did plead guilty to the charge in April, admitting that it was not an act of self-defense.
“I just want to say I’m sorry,” Barney told her family Thursday, fighting back tears. “I’m not going to blame her for this.”
Barney was arrested for the crime several days after Randall’s body was found. In a bizarre series of events, authorities said she attempted to burn her bloody clothing in the oven of a nearby home before calling 911 days later from another residence, claiming she had spent the night in the woods.
Fralich argued for a maximum guideline prison sentence of term of 30 years, 7 months.
She told the judge that the crime was “heinous,” with Randall’s death coming in her own home at the hand of a loved one she trusted. She added that Barney made calculated moves to clean up the crime scene and destroy evidence, and left the body to be discovered by Randall’s own children.
“Ms. Barney went there as a niece, a trusted family member,” Fralich said. “That caring, loving soul is what lead to Ms. Randall’s demise.”
Defense attorney Sonia Sturdevant, calling the case a “profound tragedy,” asked Tarnowski for mercy. She said her client has suffered problems with alcohol, drugs and mental illness, but she has been receiving treatment and making great progress since she has been jailed.
Sturdevant said she was fully prepared to take the case to trial and present a solid defense, but it was Barney that wanted to take responsibility.
“I don’t believe she went there to kill her aunt,” Sturdevant said. “She has enormous regret for that.”
Randall left behind a teenaged daughter and a young son. One of Randall’s brothers said the crime has been tough for the entire family to understand.
“It was sad to see that it was a family member that took my sister’s life,” Mahpiya Sutten said. “I can only imagine what happened that day and why it had to result in my sister’s life being taken.”
LaPrairie, like four other family members who read victim impact statements, had split feelings about the case. LaPrairie, who hopes to talk to Barney in prison, said her Midewiwin faith has allowed her to forgive her granddaughter.
“I’m not going to be wound up in anger, because I’m not the one that has to face the Creator,” she said. “She has to seek that forgiveness. She has to meet the Creator.”
Barney is almost certain to walk free again one day. She must serve at least two-thirds of the sentence before she is eligible for supervised release. With credit for time served, she could be out before she turns 40.
Before pronouncing her sentence, Tarnowski issued some words of encouragement to Barney, telling to focus on treatment for her mental health and addiction issues in prison.
“You can turn your life around,” the judge said. “Be an example to other people in the community.”

Related Topics: CRIME
Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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