Former northern Minnesota cult leader has sentence reduced

ST. PAUL-A former Pine County cult leader who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two girls at his camp near Finlayson in northeast Minnesota will see a six-year reduction in his sentence.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday cited a technicality in reducing 56-year-old Victor Barnard's prison term from 30 to 24 years.

Barnard himself had agreed to two consecutive, above-guideline, 15-year terms for sexually assaulting two girls at his River Road Fellowship in the early 2000s. But he later appealed, arguing that Senior Judge P. Hunter Anderson, in pronouncing the sentence, failed to cite any reasons for granting an upward departure from guidelines.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court noted that Anderson only filed a written departure report months later, after an appeal had been filed.

"Although we have no doubt that permissible departure grounds exist in this case, because the district court did not provide any departure grounds on the record at the time of sentencing, caselaw compels us to remand for imposition of the presumptive sentence," the court wrote. "We are obligated to follow the law."

Pine County prosecutors are planning an appeal.

Man sentenced to 10 days in jail for Bemidji school bus crash

BEMIDJI, Minn. - The Tennessee man who police say caused a May school bus crash the injured multiple children was sentenced to 10 days in jail Friday, Nov. 17.

Thomas Lee Nielsen, 30, of Chattanooga, Tenn., was charged with careless driving May 5, two days after he ran a stop sign at the intersection of Irvine Avenue Northwest and South Movil Lake Road in Bemidji and hit the bus. The collision caused the bus driver to lose control and swerve onto the soft shoulder of Irvine Avenue, where the bus rolled on its side in the ditch.

Multiple elementary-aged children were hurt in the crash. A 10-year-old Red Lake girl lost the use of a kidney, according to her mother, and another girl required plastic surgery to repair a large facial laceration.

Nielsen pleaded guilty to careless driving, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced Friday. Court records show that at least three people submitted victim impact statements.

Nielsen was sentenced to 90 days in jail, 80 of which were stayed, meaning that he will not have to serve that time unless he violates conditions of his probation.

Dayton's chief of staff to become St. Paul deputy mayor

ST. PAUL - St. Paul mayor-elect Melvin Carter has named Jamie Tincher as deputy mayor.

Tincher, currently the chief of staff for Gov. Mark Dayton, "successfully managed an executive office staff and complex budgets to achieve progressive policy victories for the people of Minnesota," Carter noted in a prepared statement. As deputy mayor, Tincher will be responsible for re-imagining city government to address structural inequalities and deliver high-quality services.

"Jaime is a proven leader, and will be an invaluable partner as we build a Saint Paul that works for all of us," Carter said.

Added Tincher: "Together we can re-imagine the way the City works to make a real difference in the lives of all the people of Saint Paul."

Tincher was named Dayton's chief of staff in February 2014. She previously served as deputy chief of staff for legislative affairs.

"Jaime Tincher has been an outstanding Chief of Staff," Dayton said in a prepared statement. "She and Mayor-elect Carter will make a great team to serve the people of St. Paul."

Couple's death investigated as murder-suicide

SCANDIA, Minn.-The Washington County sheriff's office is investigating an apparent murder-suicide in Scandia.

Deputies on Sunday night discovered the bodies of Clarence Seefert, 66, and Melissa Seefert, 65, inside their house after responding to a call to check their welfare.

A gun was found at the scene, Sheriff Dan Starry said.

A family friend called police just before 10 p.m. out of concern after Clarence Seefert had not shown up for a meeting earlier in the day, Starry said.

"It's very sad. It's certainly a tragedy," Starry said. "You feel for the family, that's for sure."

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also responded to the scene to help with the investigation.

The sheriff's office is not seeking any suspects in this death investigation and there is no threat to the public, Starry said.

Details such as the make and model of gun, where the bodies were found and who shot whom are not being released at this time, Starry said.

Clarence Seefert had worked as a part-time snowplow driver for the city of Scandia since November 2013.