Northland man who kidnapped son gets 2-year sentence

A Cloquet man who kidnapped his 7-year-old son from his ex-wife for 11 days in March was sentenced Thursday to two years at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center and 10 years of supervised probation and was ordered to undergo chemical depende...

James Leon Nordrum Jr.
James Leon Nordrum Jr. (File / Photo courtesy of St. Louis County)

A Cloquet man who kidnapped his 7-year-old son from his ex-wife for 11 days in March was sentenced Thursday to two years at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center and 10 years of supervised probation and was ordered to undergo chemical dependency and mental health evaluations.

James Leon Nordrum, 42, escaped a 68-month prison sentence when his defense attorney, Terri Port Wright, successfully argued to Judge Heather Sweetland that there were substantial and compelling reasons for her client to be treated locally while on probation and not sent to prison.

Port Wright argued in a written memorandum to the court that Nordrum qualified for a shorter-than-guideline sentence and probation because he didn't physically harm his son, was cooperative with law enforcement, respectful and remorseful in court, and that he was amenable to probation.

Port Wright said that during the time Nordrum kidnapped his son and held him at a rural cabin in St. Louis County's Stoney Brook Township that he cooked the child's favorite meals for him, played with him throughout the day, read his favorite books to him, made sure he was clean and had a comfortable place to sleep.

The boy was rescued at the cabin on April 7 by members of several Northland law enforcement agencies.


Candice Nordrum gave a victim impact statement to the court in which she said her 2001 marriage to the defendant started to unravel in 2004 because of his use of methamphetamine. She said she put up with six years of her ex-husband's violent and unpredictable behavior.

She said that their son is the "biggest victim of Jim's poor choices" and "the one truly punished." She and the autistic boy, now 8, live in Canada and can't go anywhere without him clinging to his mother's hand, she said.

At his plea hearing last month, Nordrum admitted that kidnapping the boy from Candice Nordrum terrorized his ex-wife, who had custody of their son and feared her ex-husband would harm him. He said he thought he would never see his son again with his ex-wife gaining custody.

Before being sentenced, Nordrum apologized to his ex-wife and to her parents. The defendant said there was a lot he would like to say, but said he didn't want to make excuses. "I screwed up," he said.

Sweetland, who practiced family law for 13 years as an attorney, told the parties: "I've never, ever been confronted with quite these circumstances and I hope I never am again. This is horrible. Just horrible."

The judge told those in the courtroom, including 20 of the defendant's relatives and friends, that she could send him to prison for 68 months and suggested that he would then simply serve his time and move on. She said she preferred to have more control over the defendant for a longer period of time while ordering him to take part in treatment programs.

Sweetland sentenced Nordrum to one year at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center for a conviction on a charge of obliterating the serial number from a firearm in a separate case. She then sentenced him to another year at NERCC for the kidnapping conviction. As conditions of his 10-year supervised probation, the defendant must have a mental health diagnostic assessment and chemical dependency evaluation and follow all recommendations, take all medications prescribed by physicians, submit to random testing for non-prescribed drugs and alcohol.

He must commit no same or similar crimes and display no acts or threats of violence, must register as a predatory offender and follow all family court orders.


James Nordrum's attorney expects him to follow the program.

"Mr. Nordrum is a veteran with untreated mental health issues and a history of chemical dependency issues," Port Wright said of her client outside the courtroom after the hearing. "He's continued to struggle with them since then. The court looked at whether or not he was amenable to probation. Based on our motion and probation's investigation, the only time Mr. Nordrum had trouble with probation is when he was using. So from that perspective, he's amenable to probation and that's one of the factors the court looks at when saying, 'Do we depart from sentencing guidelines or not?'"

St. Louis County prosecutor Jessica Smith conceded that there were substantial and compelling reasons for the court to depart from sentencing guidelines and she didn't argue against the probationary sentence. She deferred to the court.

"His history doesn't reflect a history of assaults," Smith said. "You can't say he would be better off in a corrections facility versus getting treatment in a community setting, and he really is going to get that treatment in a confined setting where we can control it. So there were factors to support the probationary sentence that Judge Sweetland ultimately determined was appropriate here."

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