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Published January 27 2012

Dilworth man pleads guilty to molesting boy

MOORHEAD – A Dilworth man who pleaded guilty in Clay County District Court Friday to molesting an 8-year-old boy while he was still on probation for sexually assaulting an underage girl in 2005 will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars, the prosecutor said.

Under a plea agreement, attorneys for both sides recommend a 12-year prison sentence for Robert James Hersrud, 28.

However, because of his prior sex conviction, Hersrud likely will be civilly committed for the rest of his life when he’s released from prison, Assistant Clay County Attorney Pamela Harris said.

“If there’s anyone that needs to be civilly committed, it’s him,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be any sort of (self-)control.”

Given the likelihood that Hersrud would be incarcerated for life whether convicted by a jury or through a plea, the state offered the plea deal to spare the boy the additional trauma of a trial, Harris said.

“We had a strong case. The boy wasn’t backing off anything. He has been consistent the whole time,” she said.

Hersrud pleaded guilty to one second-degree count of criminal sexual conduct, which carries up to 25 years in prison. Seven first-degree counts of the same charge were dismissed.

In his plea testimony, Hersrud admitted he touched the boy’s genitals “well over five” times from September 2008 to July 2010.

He didn’t admit to more severe abuses alleged in the complaint, including sodomy and oral sex. Harris said he’ll have to take a polygraph test addressing those allegations when he undergoes a sex offender assessment before his release from prison.

Judge Galen Vaa set sentencing for March 19 and deferred acceptance of the guilty plea until then.

In 2005, Hersrud was sentenced in Clay County to 1 1/2 years in prison for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl, but the sentence was stayed. He was placed on supervised probation for 15 years, with one of the conditions being no unsupervised contact with children.

Prior to Hersrud’s guilty plea in the 2005 case, the defense argued wasn’t mentally competent to stand trial because of brain damage he sustained when he was hit by a car at age 9.

Hersrud’s mental competency was again brought into question early on in the current case, but he was found fit to stand trial, said his attorney, Brian Toay. A jury trial was slated to begin Feb. 6.

Toay said he believes Hersrud can benefit from treatment.

“Obviously somebody with a traumatic brain injury’s going to have a hard time, but he’s young and I think he could,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528