Tenth Circuit Weighs Mentally Ill Kidnapper’s Sentence

DENVER (CN) – The U.S. Attorney’s Office called a kidnapper’s 70-day prison sentence an “unreasonable” punishment for capturing his ex-girlfriend at gunpoint and taking her on a forced three-day road trip.

Joseph Andrew DeRusse was charged with kidnapping in Wichita District Court in February 2015 after he had blindfolded his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend at gunpoint and drove her from Austin, Texas to a rural area of Kansas.

Police said DeRusse planned to take the woman to a bed and breakfast in Narka, Kansas, where he hoped to resurrect their two-month relationship and convince her to marry him. Police recovered an engagement ring and a BB gun that had been painted black to look like a handgun from DeRusse’s belongings. DeRusse and the woman were located with the help of her car’s GPS in Newton, Kansas after three days on the road.

Although DeRusse could have faced life in prison for the charges, U.S. District Judge Thomas Marten of Kansas instead sentenced him to five years of supervision and 70 days incarceration.

“It never should have happened to her. But it did,” Marten said of DeRusse’s ex-girlfriend at his November 2015 sentencing hearing.

“And the question is, what are you going to do to help her get past it?” Marten added. “Instead of continuing to have to wallow in it and make her feel like somehow she’s damaged goods when, in fact, she is anything but that. She is strong. She is bright. And she will get past this if you all will help her by letting her get past it.”

Marten alluded to DeRusse’s mental health in his sentencing, saying his mental instability was a “factor in his thinking as he was putting this together.”

“Everything that I have seen has indicated that since he got on the medications that he is using now, the depression, the intensity, the concerns have gone away,” Marten said.

DeRusse was also ordered to pay $400 in restitution to cover the woman’s medical bills.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office appealed the decision a month after DeRusse was sentenced.

Carrie Capwell of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Kansas, argued in front of U.S. Circuit Judges Timothy Tymkovich and Monroe McKay on behalf of the victim at an appellate hearing Tuesday morning, calling the incident a “unique case.”

Capwell said the 70-day imprisonment period DeRusse was sentenced to was “manifestly unreasonable” considering the trauma the young woman had been through and the mental anguish she was still suffering from.

“‘The victim should get past this, she should stop wallowing,’” Capwell said, referring to Marten’s comments at the sentencing hearing. “[Marten] blamed the victims’ immaturity for her extreme psychological harm.”

Capwell went on to describe the victim’s mental state after the kidnapping.

“She couldn’t sleep, eat, or stop crying for three months [after the incident],” she said of the woman, known in court documents as H.M.M. “She had suicidal ideations; she was hearing defendant’s voice.”

“This was a violent kidnapping,” Capwell added. “It is not acceptable to commit this type of crime. This is a Class A felony.”

Steven K. Gradert, a federal public defender representing DeRusse, argued that Judge Marten’s decision was tough, but valid.

“He really tried to do his job here,” Gradert said.

Gradert elaborated on the mental health treatment DeRusse had been receiving since before his trial, noting that he was undergoing rehabilitative measures along with supervision.

“This is punishment,” Gradert said. “Supervision isn’t easy.”

Judge McKay admitted that aspects of Marten’s ruling troubled him.

“It’s the ‘get over it’ that jarred me. It’s terribly cavalier,” McKay said, noting that Marten arguably gave more compassion to the perpetrator of the kidnapping than the victim.

After Gradert referred to Judge Marten as “a really good man,” McKay countered, “I know a lot of good men. Many will find that even I have made serious mistakes.”

Gradert concluded by stressing that Judge Marten had a “very difficult case.”

“At the end of the day, he thought, ‘I just don’t want to put another kid in prison,’” Gradert said.

In Capwell’s rebuttal, she criticized the district court for failing to address the possibility that DeRusse could have gotten mental health treatment in prison.

“The Bureau of Prisons can adequately provide mental health treatment,” she said.

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