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Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Published May 15 2013

Grand Forks man gets 15 years for sex crime

GRAND FORKS - Leaving a courtroom Wednesday to begin a 15-year prison term, Jack Oatman, a gray-haired 72-year-old Grand Forks man, craned his neck around, seeking some last eye contact from several female relatives, including two who say he sexually assaulted them while they slept.

None of the women glanced his way, including his wife of 44 years who filed for divorce last week.

Oatman pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting one female relative in 2011. She gave a victim impact statement Wednesday, telling how Oatman had stolen her virginity, which she had been treasuring for the day she married.

Also speaking Wednesday was another female relative who said Oatman sexually assaulted her in a similar fashion three decades ago when she was a child.

The victims and relatives and friends left the courtroom, teary-eyed but with small smiles, exchanging hugs and declining comment to a reporter.

Because they are victims of sexual assault, the Grand Forks Herald is not identifying the two women, who have different last names.

According to investigators’ affidavits, on Dec. 1, 2011, a female relative told police that the day before Oatman had given her a back rub in his home on South 19th Street. She fell asleep and was awakened by Oatman sexually assaulting her.

In a police interview at the time, Oatman admitted to the acts and that he knew she was asleep.

He was charged in February 2012 with a Class A felony count of gross sexual imposition on a person unaware of the assault. The maximum sentence is 20 years.

At the same time the first woman reported Oatman’s assault, the second relative told police she remembered similar sexual assaults, from the time she was 7 until she was about 11, as early as 1982.

During interviews in December 2011, Oatman told police he remembered doing something decades ago, but that the details were “hazy.”

Prosecutor Justin Breitweiser charged Oatman in the second woman’s case with the state’s strictest charge, a Class AA felony, because the victim was younger than 15. The maximum penalty for the charge is life in prison.

But defense attorney Jay Knudson argued last year that the appropriate charge had to be what the law was in 1982.

A judge agreed and in August Breitweiser amended the charge to a Class B felony, which is how the law categorized such a sexual assault on a child in 1982, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

As part of the deal and with the approval of the victims, Breitweiser agreed to drop the Class B felony count if Oatman pleaded guilty to the Class A felony and let the judge decide the sentence.

Oatman has been in the Grand Forks County jail since he was arrested and charged in February 2012. Knudson told Judge Clapp his client had no criminal record and had served honorably as a career military man.

“He has come forward and accepted responsibility for what he has done,” Knudson said. “He stood up in court today and said he is very sorry, in a heartfelt apology.”

The 462 days Oatman has served since his arrest “is an appropriate sentence,” if combined with supervised probation, Knudson said.

But Breitweiser, citing injury to the victim, recommended 20 years in prison, with five years suspended and five years of probation.

Clapp agreed, saying the presentence investigation showed Oatman blamed the victims and that his “history of window peeping” indicated he is a risk to re-offend.

The judge imposed a sentence of 20 years in prison with five years suspended and five years of supervised probation.

She also ordered Oatman to have no contact with the two victims and several other family members.