Hermantown man's sentence for child sexual abuse to be reduced

Brian Arthur Bartman will still face a "harsh sentence" for his crimes, the divided court said in an opinion released Wednesday.

Brian Arthur Barthman

A Hermantown man serving a 60-year prison term for sexually assaulting a preteen girl must have his sentence reduced, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The high court was divided in its decision, with a 4-3 majority concluding that Brian Arthur Barthman's sentence was excessive. The 720-month prison term imposed by Judge Shaun Floerke in May 2017 was believed to be the longest-duration sentence handed down for a sex crime in St. Louis County since Minnesota's sentencing guidelines were introduced in the early 1980s.

Barthman, 49, was found guilty by a jury on six counts of criminal sexual conduct involving a victim with developmental disabilities.

Authorities were contacted in 2015 after the victim reported to a school counselor that Barthman, who was known to her, had touched her on multiple occasions over several years. She told authorities that he asked her "to have some X" (referring to sex) and when she said no, he forced her to have intercourse, according to court documents. She said she declined to view "naughty pictures and video" with Barthman. The victim was unsure how old she was when the abuse began.

After returning the guilty verdicts, the jury found multiple aggravating factors supporting an above-guideline sentence, including the victim's cognitive developmental delay and the fact that Barthman knew about her vulnerabilities.


Floerke imposed two consecutive 30-year terms — each a statutory maximum — going well beyond the 50-year term requested by prosecutors. State sentencing guidelines called for a presumptive sentence of just 12-14 years on each count for Barthman, who had no prior criminal history.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals in September 2018 upheld the first 30-year term and the decision to impose consecutive sentences, but said Barthman should be re-sentenced to 24-28 ⅔ years on the second count. A three-judge panel called his actions "horrific," but said the 60-year term was "excessive, beyond the scope of the evidence presented, and unduly exaggerates (Barthman's) criminal conduct in light of similar cases."

Both Barthman and the Minnesota Attorney General's Office sought further review from the Minnesota Supreme Court.

In its 34-page decision issued Wednesday, the high court said consecutive sentences were proper and that the first 30-year term was appropriate, given the "particular cruelty" with which the victim was treated. However, the justices concluded that the victim's vulnerability was not a "severe aggravating factor" that warranted a second 30-year term.

"Despite this conclusion, we acknowledge that Barthman’s sexual abuse of (the victim) was horrific, and that he should receive a harsh sentence for his offenses," Associate Justice Natalie Hudson wrote for the majority. "We simply hold that count 2 is not one of those rare cases in which a greater-than-double durational departure may be imposed."

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea and associate justices Anne McKeig and David Lillehaug disagreed, saying the 60-year sentence should remain in place because "this case is exceptional, justifying the rare imposition of maximum sentences."

"Given the majority’s decision here — in this 'textbook' case of exploitation of a young victim with reduced mental capacity — it is unclear whether particular vulnerability on its own would ever be sufficient to rise to the level of a severe aggravating circumstance," McKeig wrote in the dissenting opinion. "The majority essentially forecloses the district courts from finding that particular vulnerability can be sufficiently severe to warrant a greater-than-double durational departure."

The case will be sent back to Floerke for re-sentencing, at which time he may impose a term of up to 58 ⅔ years.

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
What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.