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Lakner pleads guilty to sex assault charge

Barney Lakner

An Ely man who once terrorized campers on Basswood Lake and led conservation officers on a high-speed snowmobile pursuit through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness has now admitted to sexually assaulting a woman.

Barney James Lakner, 49, pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor count of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct Tuesday in State District Court in Two Harbors.

Lakner admitted at the plea hearing that he inappropriately touched a woman without her consent inside his family cabin on Fall Lake in June 2017.

Under a plea agreement with the Lake County Attorney's Office, Lakner is expected to have a one-year jail term stayed for three years of supervised probation and a $900 fine. He will, however, serve a short prison sentence stemming from a probation violation on his snowmobile chase conviction.

In exchange for the plea, prosecutor Lara Nygaard dropped felony charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition. Lakner was set to stand trial on those charges next week.

The victim was present in the courtroom to hear Lakner's plea. Nygaard told the court that she signed off on the agreement to resolve the case.

According to a criminal complaint filed in November 2017, the victim reported leaving a gathering of friends at about 8 p.m. June 14 and driving with Lakner to his cabin. She said Lakner drugged and assaulted her.

The victim said she woke up about 1 a.m. to find her clothes had been removed from the waist down and Lakner was sexually assaulting her in a bed, according to the complaint. She said Lakner left the room and she was able to hide in a bathroom and then in the woods while she waited for a friend to pick her up.

A judge previously denied Lakner's motion to dismiss the charges, ruling that there was sufficient evidence for a jury to consider the credibility of the woman's allegations and saying the seizure of a duffel bag containing a gun and ammunition at the cabin was appropriate under a search warrant authorized in the course of the investigation.

Under questioning from defense attorney Bruce Williams, Lakner acknowledged Tuesday that he touched the woman's breasts and genitals inside the cabin. He was not asked to provide any further details on the incident.

Lakner has four prior felony convictions stemming from the two incidents in the Boundary Waters.

He served a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to five charges, including three felonies, when he led a drunken, gun-shooting, fireworks-lighting trip that terrorized campers on Basswood Lake in 2007.

He again ran into trouble in 2014, when he rammed a conservation officer's snowmobile while illegally joyriding in the Boundary Waters, where motorized vehicles are outlawed. A Lake County jury convicted him on six charges, including one felony, and he was sentenced to probation and six months in jail.

Lakner remained under supervision at the time of the sexual assault. A 13-month prison sentence, which had been stayed, will be executed as a result of the probation violation, defense attorney Gordon Pineo told the court. Lakner will be required to report to prison on Aug. 23.

The new conviction also will carry a mandatory 10-year predatory offender registration and a harassment restraining order for the victim will be extended 50 years.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mike Cuzzo ordered a presentence investigation and a chemical dependency assessment ahead of a March 29 sentencing date.

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