Panel says EGF man should receive 12-year prison sentence, not probation

An East Grand Forks man's controversial sentence for sexual assault has been reversed in Minnesota appeals court after he was released earlier this year for time served with a 12-year prison sentence stayed in return for 30 years of probation.

Jose Soto Jr. and Ismael Hernandez were accused of sexually assaulting and beating a woman in an East Grand Forks apartment in May 2012. According to the complaint, both men took turns holding the woman down while the other assaulted her. When she got free, the woman's friend brought her to the hospital where her injuries were photographed and police were called.

Both men were charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Soto agreed to deal with Polk County Attorney Greg Widseth's office, wanting to plead guilty with an Alford plea, meaning he did not admit wrongdoing but agreed there was enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty. He also said he couldn't remember much because he was so impaired with alcohol, as part of the "Norgaard" provision.

Widseth agreed in the plea deal to not ask for more than 12 years, which is the a presumptive sentence under state guidelines. Had Soto gone to trial, Widseth indicated he would seek an upward departure from the state sentencing guidelines.

At sentencing in March, Crookston District Judge Jeffrey Remick said Soto deserved a stay of his sentence because he had a 10-year-old child, family support and was likely to cooperate successfully with probation.

Soto, who had been in jail nine months before his sentencing, was released from his incarceration that day. The sentence handed down by Remick drew criticism from law enforcement involved in the case and victims' advocates, both of whom noted the particular brutality of the crimes committed against the victim.

Hernandez went to trial in January. A jury found him guilty and he received a 12 year sentence from District Judge Kurt Marben in Crookston, just days after Soto was allowed to walk out of jail. Hernandez is currently in a Minnesota state prison.

In an opinion filed Monday, a three-judge panel in St. Paul directed Judge Remick to reverse probation and execute the 12-year sentence of Jose Soto, Jr.

The appeals panel said Remick incorrectly accounted for the fact that Soto's son lives with the boy's mother, not with Soto, and his family did not support him in finding a need to change. The panel also noted that Soto didn't fully admit his guilt in the crime, bringing into question the likelihood he'd be a good candidate for probation.

Soto has 30 days to request a review of the appeals court ruling.