Barker pleads guilty in kidnapping case
Thomas Jay Barker, one of the three men charged in connection with the abduction of 15-year-old Jasmine Block of Alexandria last fall, entered a guilty plea Wednesday morning in Douglas County District Court.
Barker pleaded guilty to kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct in the first degree with a dangerous weapon and criminal sexual conduct in the first degree causing fear of great bodily harm. All are felony-level charges.
Under the terms of an agreement between the prosecution and Barker's attorney, Barker is expected to be sentenced to 25 years in prison. In addition, he will be subject to a lifetime conditional release period following prison and will have to register as a predatory offender.
Barker's attorney, Justin Braulick, said the plea hearing went as expected.
"We had worked out an agreement beforehand and it went as we had agreed outside of the courtroom," Braulick said.
Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson said once the sentencing worksheets are updated, Judge Timothy Churchwell will sign an interim commitment order so that Barker will be able to begin serving his prison sentence immediately, rather than waiting until after his sentencing hearing.
Because the case is still pending, Larson said he would reserve any comments until after Barker is formally sentenced. His sentencing hearing has been scheduled for Friday, Oct. 12, at 10 a.m.
Sarah Block, Jasmine's mother, said she was pleased with the guilty plea from Barker.
"It's been a long road and we just want it over," she said. "We are happy it won't have to go to trial and that Jasmine won't have to go through that, which is what we wanted all along."
Block said now that Barker pleaded guilty, she hopes it will be easier to move on.
"I told her (Jasmine) and she was relieved," Block said. "Jasmine struggles daily, but maybe this will help her and make it easier for her to move on. She needs to be just a typical teenage girl."
One part of the hearing bothered Block: When Barker said he didn't know her family. She said that was not true, as her family has known him for years and he has known her daughter since she was a baby.
"That upset me, that he said that under oath and it was a lie," she said. "That was the most frustrating part. But we are happy with the plea and that he will be going to prison."
Block said she is thankful every day that her daughter had the strength, courage and willpower to escape from the men who kidnapped her.
Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels, who was not at the hearing but was contacted later, said this is a tragedy for everyone involved, especially the victim, but that he hopes the "bad guys" will be held accountable as the law allows.
Barker takes the stand
Barker, who took the stand with the use of a walker, waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty to all three counts. He then was asked a series of questions by Judge Churchwell, admitting that he believed Jasmine Block, who the judge referred to as "Person ABC," was under the age of 16.
Churchwell asked Barker what the purpose was of taking her.
"I don't know. I was under the influence at the time. I was messed up. I was so high on drugs. I was drunk non-stop. That's all I did. Lots of it is a blur," Barker told the judge.
Barker was asked if he thought the girl suffered harm, and he replied, "Not sure. Not to my knowledge."
When Churchwell asked Barker if he had sexual contact with her and if they had sexual intercourse, Barker replied, "Yes."
Churchwell asked whether Barker had a weapon, if he made "ABC" believe that he had a weapon and if the weapon caused fear. Barker said no and that "she could have been intimidated because there were three guys."
At that point, Churchwell stopped the hearing, saying he couldn't accept Barker's plea because he wasn't getting enough information. Churchwell asked Barker, "Is this the route you really want to proceed with?"
Barker's attorney asked if he and the lawyers could approach the bench, and after doing so, Churchwell asked Barker to step down and out of the courtroom to converse with Braulick.
After a brief recess, Barker and his lawyer returned and the hearing proceeded.
Churchwell again asked Barker a series of questions, including if he had sufficient time to speak to his attorney and if he wanted to proceed with entering a guilty plea. Barker answered yes to both questions.
The judge asked Barker how and where the girl was taken, and Barker said he was just "driving around" and that he had no connection to the girl or her family and that it was random encounter. The judge asked him to clarify and if it was supposed to be a joke or prank, and Barker said it wasn't.
Questions regarding a weapon were readdressed, with Barker stating that he had a BB gun and it was made visible on purpose.
In his final questions, Churchwell asked Barker if he held the girl against her will, if he prevented her from leaving and if he believed that there was reasonable fear of great bodily harm. Barker responded yes to all of the questions.
The judge asked the lawyers if they had any further questions and Larson said he did.
"Are you pleading guilty because you are?" Larson asked, to which Barker replied, "Yes."
Jasmine Block gained national attention after police say she escaped from three men while being held captive for nearly a month. She disappeared from her Alexandria home in August 2017.
Steven Powers, 21, of Mankato, faces charges of kidnapping, criminal sexual conduct and false imprisonment in connection with the case. He does not have any upcoming court dates set.
Joshua Holby, 32, of Carlos, who pleaded not guilty to two counts of kidnapping and false imprisonment on Jan. 11, is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on Friday, Sept. 7.