WINDOM — A Cottonwood County court ruling earlier this month prompted some Windom residents to protest Monday morning outside the courthouse in Windom.
Samuel Sandbo, 21, of Windom, was sentenced June 2 on two charges of third-degree criminal sexual conduct of two vulnerable adults in his care at PRL Habilitative Services Inc. in Windom. He turned himself in for the offenses last November on these charges, as well as on an additional Jackson County charge of inappropriately touching a vulnerable adult (fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct).
At Sandbo's Cottonwood County sentencing, Fifth Judicial District Judge Christina Wietzema explained that the presumptive sentence (the typical sentence recommended by the state) in this case was 48 months in prison for the first sexual assault and 76 months for the second. However, when both the prosecutor and the defense attorney recommended that Sandbo be allowed to serve 180 days of local jail time and 15 years of supervised probation in lieu of going to prison, Wietzema agreed.
Upon reading The Globe's report on Sandbo's sentencing, Windom residents Ronda Koch and Shawna Horkey said they were outraged. The two women organized a protest outside Cottonwood County courthouse Monday morning to voice their objection to the ruling.
Some of Sandbo's victims, they explained, are non-verbal and were therefore unable to stand up for themselves during the court proceedings. Local time of 180 days, the women added, is not a just sentence for the crimes Sandbo committed and the pain he inflicted on the victims.
"Anybody else would be going to prison," Horkey said.
Although Monday morning brought rain showers to the area, Horkey and Koch were outside for hours marching around the courthouse in protest.
"We feel this message is important," Koch said. "It's about making a statement for them (the victims)."
"I could do it all night and all day tomorrow," Horkey added.
Horkey works as a direct support professional for people with disabilities, and Koch previously worked in a similar position. Their experience has given the women personal knowledge of the gravity of Sandbo's crime.
"We're their (the victims') advocates," Horkey said. "If we don't stand up for them, who's going to?"
Koch and Horkey had hoped more Windom residents would join their protest, guessing that the weather prevented some from coming out. However, they were encouraged by the reactions of local passersby. Drivers and pedestrians alike studied the signs the women were holding, some even making the block a few times in order to read the statements. Downtown foot traffic lent support by waving or flashing a thumbs-up.
Although they weren't optimistic that their protest would overturn the judge's ruling, the women still felt they needed to make their voices heard.
"It's the principle," Horkey explained.
While Horkey and Koch protested, just a block away, Sandbo attended his sentencing on the Jackson County case via Zoom from the Cottonwood County jail.
On the charge of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct, Fifth Judicial District Judge Michael Trushenski granted Sandbo a stay of imposition, meaning that Sandbo is judged to be guilty and will serve 180 days of local jail time and 10 years' supervised probation concurrently with his Cottonwood County sentence. If he fails to abide by the terms of his probation, Sandbo could return to court and face prison time, but Trushenski did not impose a potential prison sentence Monday.
Sandbo will also have to pay a $1,000 fine (plus a $500 fine and $100 restitution in the Cottonwood County case) and write a letter of apology to the victim within one year.
Sandbo began his sentence in Cottonwood County Jail on June 26. With credit for eight days of time served, Sandbo should get out of jail December 15, although the Cottonwood County Jail website lists his projected release date as October 19.
The Southwest Crisis Center is available in our community to support and empower survivors of sexual and domestic violence. For questions about services or how you can help contact the Southwest Crisis Center at 800-376-4311 or mnswcc.org.