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Phipps sentenced to 8 years, 9 months for Congdon Park home invasion

A man who along with a friend terrorized a mother and her 9-year-old son by binding their hands with electrical zip ties and threatening them at gunpoint was led from a courtroom in tears Tuesday after being sentenced to 8 3/4 years in prison for...

Jonathan Phipps
Jonathan Phipps

A man who along with a friend terrorized a mother and her 9-year-old son by binding their hands with electrical zip ties and threatening them at gunpoint was led from a courtroom in tears Tuesday after being sentenced to 8¾ years in prison for the Congdon Park home invasion.

Jonathan Phipps, 20, of Two Harbors had earlier pleaded guilty in St. Louis County District Court to first-degree burglary and two counts of kidnapping in connection with the Aug. 30, 2007, incident.

Judge Shaun Floerke sentenced Phipps to 48 months in prison on the burglary conviction, a crime Phipps described as originating as a plan to steal money from a safe that turned out to be empty. He also received a 57-month sentence on the kidnapping charge, to be served consecutively, and was ordered to pay $22,124.06 restitution to the victims' family.

Before his sentencing, Phipps apologized to the victims and their family.

"I apologize from the bottom of my heart for what I did to you that day,'' Phipps said with his head turned toward the victims' family. "I would do anything to take it back.''

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Saying he had fallen into "a dark hole of the drug world'' before getting involved in the home invasion, Phipps said he became extremely sick from his drug use and since has found God.

Kelly Hurley also recalled that day, but from a different perspective. She read a victims' impact statement in which she told the court that the trauma of the incident has not faded from her and her son's memories. She said a loaded gun was pointed at her son's head and his life threatened. She said the boy still sleeps with lights on and tries to hide weapons in his room. She said she didn't want him to have to worry about Phipps "for a long, long time.''

Defense attorney Kevin Cornwell asked the court to depart from sentencing guidelines and give his client a probationary sentence, which would include rehabilitation in the faith-based Teen Challenge program.

Cornwell said that Phipps came from a good family that was supportive of their "kind, caring, compassionate son, brother and uncle.'' Cornwell said his client's actions that day were inconsistent with who he is and the way he was raised.

St. Louis County prosecutor Mark Rubin told the court that none of that really mattered. Phipps should be sentenced "for what he did on that fateful day,'' Rubin said.

In denying Phipps a probationary sentence in the faith-based Teen Challenge program, Floerke told the defendant it would be up to him to make his own choice to continue a relationship with God while in prison.

Phipps is the second of three defendants to be sentenced in connection with the home invasion. David E. Schiller, the alleged ringleader, was sentenced in July to 9½ years. The third defendant, Ian Guzzo, 20, of Two Harbors is scheduled to stand trial starting Jan. 6 for his alleged role in the crime.

MARK STODGHILL covers public safety and courts. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at mstodghill@duluthnews.com .

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