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Brittany Lawonn, Published March 21 2009

Judge: Victim’s story inspires

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson usually doesn’t address victims during sentencing hearings, but Friday he made an exception.

The federal judge told a Fargo woman that her courageous efforts not only saved her life but also served as an inspiration.

In addressing the woman who escaped from the clutches of a man who kidnapped her at gunpoint and told her he intended to rape and kill her, Erickson noted it would be a tragedy if she lost hope after surviving that experience.

“There’s a way through this darkness; there always is,” the judge said, noting that the two-page letter Ashley Ware submitted to the court in which she forgives Vincent Degidio Jr. “deeply moved” him.

The letter was not made public, but its contents and forgiveness surprised and moved Degidio, defense attorney Christopher Lancaster said.

“He (Degidio) wondered how she would be able to do that and was extremely appreciative of that,” Lancaster said.

Degidio also apologized before being sentenced to nearly 29 years in prison, telling Ware that he hopes she can get over what happened.

Erickson then sentenced him to 346 months in prison – the equivalent of 28 years and 10 months.

Degidio, 29, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Fargo to firearms and kidnapping charges, which each carried potential maximum sentences of life in prison. Federal prisoners are not eligible for parole, but can receive good time. Degidio must serve 85 percent of his sentence – essentially more than 24 years.

Degidio attended the hearing via interactive television from South Carolina and appeared to be in a wheelchair. He was shot twice during a shootout with police in south Moorhead.

“It’s obvious that he’s never gonna walk again,” Lancaster said.

On April 3, 2008, Degidio abducted Ware, then 23, from her Fargo residence and forced her at gunpoint to drive to Moorhead where he threatened to rape and kill her. She escaped and ran into O’Reilly Auto Parts store, where Degidio followed her and pistol-whipped her before robbing the store.

When asked if he agreed with those allegations Friday, Degidio replied, “Um, yeah.”

Degidio still faces charges in Clay County District Court of robbery, attempted sexual criminal conduct and assault related to the case.

Following the hearing, Ware said she is happy with the sentence. She had thought it would be difficult to see Degidio again, “but it wasn’t.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541