Man first to be sentenced in ND under Adam Walsh Act

By dave Kolpack
Fargo, North Dakota (AP) 3-08

A Fort Totten man convicted of sex crimes against a 7-year-old girl is the first person to be sentenced in North Dakota under a 2006 federal sex offender law, prosecutors say.

Norris James Lohnes, 23, was sentenced to 30 years in prison, the minimum sentence required by the federal Adam Walsh Act. A jury found Lohnes guilty in September of aggravated sexual abuse and sexual abuse of a child.

The law was named for 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall in 1981 and later found slain. A part of it, requiring convicted child molesters to be listed on a national Internet database, is named for slain University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin.

Prosecutors said Lohnes would have faced a minimum sentence of about 22 years in prison without the Walsh Act.

Authorities said the girl was assaulted in September 2006 on the Spirit Lake Reservation, after Lohnes broke into a home through a window. Assistant U.S. Attorney Janice Morley, who prosecuted the case, called it a “heinous act” that traumatized the victim.

Defense attorney John Goff presented a letter from Lohnes’ grandmother and spoke briefly about the difficulties Lohnes faced while growing up on the reservation.

“It’s a very, very sad story,” Goff said.

“Life is different on the reservation,” Morley countered. “But that’s no excuse for what happened to the victim.”

Lohnes, who showed no emotion during sentencing, declined an opportunity to speak. “I have nothing to say,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Rodney Webb said the 30-year sentence may be appropriate in the Lohnes case, but he criticized Congress for setting mandatory minimum terms.

“Congress doesn’t sit here and look Mr. Lohnes in the eye,” Webb said. “Congress doesn’t sit here and look a 7-year-old victim in the eye.”

However, Webb said, “I feel just as strongly that this is a very serious case.”

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., a co-sponsor of the Walsh bill, said the law covers aggravated sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a child that involves physical force, threats of death, injury or kidnapping, and substances that leave the victim unconscious or impaired.

“In some areas, I think Congress has gone overboard with mandatory sentences,” Pomeroy said. “But I believe it’s only appropriate to establish the most severe criminal punishments for these violent sexual predators preying on our children.”

Goff also complained about mandatory minimum sentences, “not just in this case, but in most cases.”

U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley said Congress had the benefit of listening to witnesses and other testimony before passing the law, which he said was badly needed.

“We’ve gotten to the point where the public has said, ‘Enough is enough,”’ Wrigley said outside the courtroom. “Children are not sex objects and predators who gratify themselves by sexualizing and victimizing kids will be dealt with harshly in federal court.”