On Friday, two rape survivors ended Minnesota cult leader Victor Barnard’s reign. The 55-year-old was sentenced to 30 years in prison for sexually assaulting two women for years.
Barnard was the leader of the River Road Fellowship, an offshoot Christian sect he founded and transformed into a cult. The two women who ultimately filed 59 counts of sexual assault against Barnard were the youngest of ten first-born daughters, ages 12 to 24, whom Barnard selected to be the group’s “Ten Maidens,” in 2000. As chaste, exemplar virgins, the girls lived apart from their families at Barnard’s private camp, where he secretly raped them for a decade.
Barnard pleaded guilty earlier this month on two counts of felony sexual assault and agreed to 30 years in a plea deal. The final sentencing hearing on Friday ended four months of U.S. court proceedings, following Barnard’s capture in Brazil, and allowed the two survivors to read statements describing the impact Barnard’s crimes had on their lives.
The two women stood before the packed courtroom together and read their statements aloud, speaking directly to Barnard while describing how they worked to overcome the abuse. “I ask Victor to look around,” one woman said. “I have the whole United States system of law enforcement and justice behind me. What does he have? A cult of perverts and cowards.” She continued:
I know he thought I would change my mind here, that he still had power over me. No chance. He cannot break me. He does not own me. He no longer scares me. He is the one that is weak. … I can now say good-bye to Victor – forever.
The second woman began by noting that yesterday, October 27, marked 16 years since Barnard first abused her. “He stole my innocence. My childhood. My virginity,” she said. “In not going to trial, he is only sparing himself the pain and humiliation of the details of his abuse of us becoming public.”
In his statement, Barnard explained that what he did was not consistent with faith. “God is good, his word faithful and true,” he said, according to Minnesota station Fox 9 KMSP. “I have not always walked in goodness. I am deeply sorrowful … and I hope God will heal their broken hearts.”
Defense attorney Marsh Halberg, who represented Barnard with Dave Risk, said that if Barnard complies with conditions, which include sex counseling, he could serve only two-thirds of the sentence — about 17 to 18 years. “He really did want to spare everybody — the victims, the church, the community,” Halberg said, acknowledging that other people considered Barnard’s decision to not enter a trial as martyrdom. “I appreciate that they don’t see it that way. He didn’t want to put people through it.”
Pine County attorney Reese Frederickson said he shortened his own argument to let the women’s powerful statements speak for themselves. “The sentencing brings closure for the victims and the community,” he said. “Justice was served.”
This post has been updated throughout.