Victims' voices heard in court
To put a number on the hours worked between all law enforcement agencies, including the Pine County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Marshal Service, and even officers in Brazil, in the case against Victor Barnard, according to County Attorney Reese Frederickson, would be very difficult, but their work culminated on Friday afternoon when Barnard received a 30-year sentence.
“It really was an unprecedented effort, especially in terms of volume and the number of involved entities. They all were so taken by what the girls endured and survived, that they were motivated to find Barnard and bring him back,” Frederickson said.
As a law enforcement investigator, County Commissioner Matt Ludwig of Sandstone spent many hours on this case, and the case against Barnard was his last. He was thanked at the press conference for his work in the case.
Over the years, there were three lead investigators in the case — Ludwig, current Sheriff Jeff Nelson and Chad Layon.
“All three chased every conceivable lead. Their reports fill up a full shelf in my office,” Frederickson said.
Sheriff Nelson also said it was impossible to count the hours spent on the case, but also said Ludwig did a great job in the initial investigation.
“There was time interviewing victims, tracking down witnesses and interviewing them, sorting through evidence, etc.,” Nelson said. Nelson said he worked on and off the case for two years, and also went to Washington state, where Washington State Patrol officers assisted him in the search for Barnard and followed up on leads to where he might be.
While Frederickson said the work of the Pine County Sheriff’s Office was “massive,” a close second was the work by U.S. Marshals. The lead marshal on the case was in the courtroom for sentencing.
Again, the man-hours by this agency was hard to determine, Nelson said, but there were two areas in Washington in which they monitored and interviewed people, along with monitoring of international travel, and several “sightings” from coast to coast, Nelson said.
After the U.S. Marshals determined he was in Brazil, a single Brazilian police officer spent nearly 100 hours outside Barnard’s condo in hopes he would emerge, and he could confirm he was in the country.
“The U.S. Marshals Office was my main contact for the federal agencies, and I cannot sing their praises loud enough. They were able to locate Barnard and coordinate his arrest. They continued to be involved until they delivered him to Pine County,” Nelson said.
After he was taken into custody, Sheriff Nelson said there were then many hours put into the extradition process by U.S. and Brazilian agencies, including legal and law enforcement agencies.
“All of the agencies that I had contact with were extremely focused on their responsibilities. If we had not worked so well together, I believe the case would still be pending at one stage or another,” Nelson said.
“This was the most wide-spread case I have seen in my time at Pine as far as number of agencies, geography and work hours. I think all of the agencies should be acknowledged for the work they did. The case started as a local case, however, and without Investigator Ludwig doing the work he did, the case never would have gone the way it did,” said Nelson, who additionally thanked Frederickson and Assistant County Attorney Michelle Skubitz for their work on the case.
A former “maiden” and supporter of Barnard to this day helped lead authorities to Barnard, but not of her own choosing. The U.S. Marshals kept track of this person, and discovered she entered Brazil by tracking her movements, in which she traveled through various airports and using different credit cards for payments. Surveillance kept tabs on her in Brazil and eventually figured out his location.
The victims' stories
Victor Arden Barnard, 55, will likely live the rest of his life in prison following his sentencing on Friday, in which he was sentenced to 30 years.
A little over two weeks ago, Barnard shocked most courtroom observers by pleading guilty to two charges of criminal sexual conduct, and also agreed to serve 30 years. The courtroom was packed on Friday as victims of Barnard, the former leader of River Road Fellowship once based west of Finlayson, both gave statements to the court and Judge P. Hunter Anderson.
As expected, Barnard was sentenced to serve two consecutive 15-year terms. If Barnard earns good time in prison and counting time already served, Barnard will spend the next 18 years at least in a state facility.
Two of Barnard’s victims, Lyndsay Tornambe and Jess Schlinsky, both gave powerful victim impact statements to the court, with the support of sexual assault victim advocates behind them. According to County Attorney Reese Frederickson, these two victims are just the tip of the iceberg, and the number of juvenile victims could be close to 20.
Tornambe said her abuse started at the age of 13 when Barnard asked her a question about sex and struck her across the face. Later that night, he asked her to come back, and said having sex with Barnard was a way she could show Barnard God’s love. Along with the sexual assaults, Tornambe also said she was also humiliated and beaten by Barnard.
“Victor told me constantly that having sex with me was a way of knowing God’s love. He assured me that even though he was having sex with me, I could remain a virgin spiritually. By taking care of Victor and dedicating my life to him and Jesus Christ, I would have a special place in heaven,” Tornambe told the court.
“Over time, with constant physical abuse and sexual abuse, I lost my identity. I lost sight of who I really was. I became a servant, always attentive to pleasing him and never disappointing him for fear of being humiliated or abused in front of the church. My parents gave me up to him and they willingly abandoned me, sacrificing my happiness, future and innocence for their salvation. Why my parents didn’t do anything to protect me, I will never know or understand,” she said.
Tornambe said she eventually left Barnard, but to this day, even as an adult, realizes “my parents sold me like cheap property to a narcissistic predator.”
“The emotional and mental trauma I went through has resulted in PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), nightmares, trust issues, abandonment issues, feelings of guilt that it was all my fault, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, suicide, anxiety and many other things. For days and weeks all I wanted to do is cry, and I didn’t know why,” she said.
Tornambe said her life was at her lowest point after she left the church, and considered taking her own life, but after speaking to another relative, decided to work with federal law enforcement to help bring Barnard back from Brazil to face charges.
“My children will never feel they are not good enough. Or pretty enough. Or skinny enough. My children will not be punished for smiling or being excited about life. They will not be spit on or shamed for being moral or upstanding. Although I am better and continue to heal, I still struggle,” she told the judge.
“How powerful is a man who rapes a child? How Christian is a man who hurts children? Does he know the answer? It’s simple. Sex offenders. He said he wouldn’t accept being labeled as a sex offender. He said that he doesn’t need treatment. He believed he was above the laws of the land and of God. But he is wrong. He is sick. He is a sex offender, pathetic and cowardly,” Tornambe continued.
“I have the whole United States system of law enforcement and justice behind me. What does he have? A cult of perverts and cowards. I am his downfall ... Whether Victor accepts it or not, he will be known all over the world for eternity as a sexual predator and offender of young children. But as for me, I can now say good-bye to Victor — forever.
Schlinsky noted that Barnard’s crime against her was 16 years ago, and because she was raised to revere Barnard, she was afraid to tell him no, even though she did the first time.
“He stole my innocence, my childhood, my virginity. He stole my chance at any resemblance of a normal life. I lived in constant fear of him,” Schlinsky told the court.
Her life revolved around pleasing him, and when she didn’t, Schlinsky said Barnard would slap her and humiliate her in front of her peers.
From 36 days before she was 13, up until she was 20, Schlinsky said Barnard repeatedly assaulted her. She tried to get pregnant at 14, hoping that Barnard would send her away, but that was the year that Barnard got a vasectomy.
She tried to run away three times, but she did not know where to go, and returned.
“I felt pressured from my parents to join the “maidens,” and I feared that if I left, I would disappoint them. I had been cut off from my extended family and I didn’t know where to turn,” she told the court.
In 2001, Barnard had a meeting with Schlinsky and her parents, and said he may or may not choose to be intimate with her, and asked for their blessings, which they gave. Her parents did not know, however, that he had already begun his “intimacy,” Schlinsky said, four months prior.
“He would drill us, the ‘maidens,’ on how to answer questions should we ever be asked. He would say to tell the police, government or any authorities that he only treated us with love. If they asked if he hit us, we were to answer that he only treated us with love,” Schlinsky said in court.
If any “maiden” told what occurred, Schlinsky said, that it would bring judgment, pain and damnation on his victims.
“Victor stating that he wanted to avoid a trial to spare Lindsay and myself pain is cowardly,” Schlinsky said. “In not going to trial, he is only sparing himself the pain and humiliation of the details of his abuse becoming public.”
In June 2008, Schlinsky said he asked all the “maidens” whether they wanted to be married or stay with Barnard. Schlinsky said she wanted to be married, and he was “sad and disappointed,” asking to “please give it three more years,” before a decision was made.
Schlinsky moved out the next day, and moved to Wisconsin. In doing so, she lost all the family she had known since a pre-teen. She told the court her life started falling apart once she confronted her past.
“Depression consumed me. I attempted suicide three times in four months. I began self-harming. I was ashamed of my past. I blamed myself for not leaving sooner. I was hospitalized three times,” she told the court.
Schlinsky said she suffers to this day from what Barnard did to her, including post-traumatic stress disorder “as a result of Victor’s sexual, emotional, verbal and physical abuse.”
She said her family was torn apart by what happened, and they called her a liar, and even disowned her.
“What Victor Barnard did has affected me and every part of my life,” she said.
After the sentencing
After court on Friday, the two victims of Victor Barnard who came forward against him that resulted in Barnard going to prison for up to 30 years, smiled, knowing there is a chance he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
But for both Lyndsay Tornambe and Jess Schlinsky, the crimes he made against these young women when they were 12 and 13 when he first sexually assaulted them, will never go away.
In court, Barnard said, “God is good, and his word is faithful and true,” but that he “did not walk in his goodness.”
“I pray to God for these two women,” he continued.
Tornambe said she was physically ill for Barnard’s sentencing, with emotions “all over the place.”
“There is nothing good that happened,” Schlinsky said, saying that Barnard likely pled guilt to the crimes to prevent every detail from coming out.
“It’s very cowardly. It’s offensive,” Schlinsky said of Barnard opting out of the trial and pleading guilty.
To get through coming to terms with the assault, Schlinsky said the two young women had each other, great family members, and people who came into their lives. Tornambe credited the work of Matt Ludwig, the first Pine County Sheriff’s Office investigator, who worked on the case. Ludwig was in court to see Barnard sentenced.
“He is not the man he thinks he is,” Schlinsky said, noting that he can still lead people in the River Road Fellowship from prison.
The sentence would now allow her, Schlinsky said, to “move on with our lives completely.”
According to County Attorney Reese Frederickson, Barnard was facing an airtight case that was “massive” in size. He was expecting a six-week trial. He called Barnard “a bit of a narcissist” who had an ego.
Frederickson said the charges against Barnard were just the tip of the iceberg, and he said there were a total of 17 or 18 juveniles.
When asked why the previous county attorney did not pursue charges right away in what a reporter called a “he said, she said” case, Frederickson said, “I think that’s an old school way of looking at it.”
“I think there was a system breakdown,” Frederickson said.
One of Barnard’s attorneys, Marsh Halberg, said it was Barnard initially who sought to not put his victims through trial, from the first time he flew to Brazil to meet with him during the extradition process. He said that Barnard told him he did not want to discredit any of his victims, and did not want to fight any other issues, something Halberg felt they could have explored, like statute of limitations issues.
“He did not want a trial to spare the two women,” Halberg said.
Halberg said the prison environment in Brazil was very harsh. Last year, there was a report of him attempting suicide, and when asked what really happened to him, Halberg said he would not disclose what the real facts were, other than to say, “Other prisoners did not think highly of him,” noting he was the only American in this maximum facility prison.
Barnard’s other attorney, David Risk, said he did not have a problem with what Barnard said in court.
“The point he was trying to make is that God is good, and he wasn’t,” Risk said.
“He is a person of faith,” Risk said. “He has expressed significant remorse.”