“I can remember trying to yell out in absolute fear for my life, ‘Oh God,’ but no sound came out because the pressure was too tight around my throat and it was that morning that I knew my life was at risk. Images of my husband and my two beautiful children flashed through my mind as I began to fight because I needed to make it home to them.”
The emotional victim impact statement was read by the victim, Brainerd High School teacher Dana Kaiser, Wednesday, prior to her attacker’s sentencing Aug. 14, in a Crow Wing County District Court courtroom in Brainerd.
Kaiser addressed her statement to the judge as well as her attacker -- 21-year-old Jared Allen-Tristen McCormack, who was sitting about 10-12 feet away wearing a Crow Wing County Jail-issued navy blue jumpsuit and with his hands shackled at his waist.
“And fought I did until Mr. McCormack ran out of the locker room. Approximately 20 minutes later, still in shock and now with a Brainerd Police Department officer, an elementary school girl walked through the same locker room in which I had just been attacked. … It was that moment that I understood that although I was the victim, I was not the target. Mr. McCormack’s actions and likely worse results were intended for any female student that happened to walk through that locker room that morning.”
It was the first time Kaiser spoke in court since she was physically attacked by McCormack about 6:40 a.m. Feb. 11 in the BHS girls’ locker room. Kaiser and her husband have attended every court hearing since McCormack was charged with three felonies of first-degree burglary-assault, attempted kidnapping and attempted fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct through using force. The complaint was amended March 21 to add a gross misdemeanor charge of fifth-degree assault occurring within three years of a previous conviction.
In May, McCormack entered into a plea agreement, admitting guilt to one of the four charges -- first-degree burglary-assault. The other three charges would be dismissed, if Judge Patricia Aanes accepted the plea agreement Wednesday afternoon during McCormack’s sentencing hearing.
At the beginning of the sentencing hearing, McCormack’s Public Defender Charles J. Frey provided the judge and the prosecuting attorney -- Crow Wing County Assistant Attorney Candace Prigge -- with a sentencing guideline worksheet. Frey argued for a departure from state sentencing guidelines, and was seeking less jail time for McCormack.
Annes accepted the worksheet as an exhibit and the attorneys agreed to first allow Kaiser to read her victim impact statement.
Kaiser, dressed in a navy and white striped dress, sat next to Prigge and said her life that day was taken from her. She said when his hands and arms went across her mouth and around her throat, her sense of security, her viewpoint of living amongst genuinely good people and her idea of normal vanished.
Kaiser, who thought she was going to die, said the physical damage was not severe because she was able to fight, but she faces emotional and mental challenges every day. She said the attack has played over in her head too many times to count and she has nightmares, can’t sleep and has anxiety as she deals with the trauma caused by her attack.
Kaiser said the attack also impacted her students at BHS, as “their safe place was violated.”
“Having to stand in front of nearly 150 students every day and try to tell them that they need to still believe that they are safe and that there is goodness in the world has not been an easy task,” Kaiser said with emotion.
The attack has created strains on the victim’s personal and professional relationships. She said McCormack “dumped a mountain of garbage on me that morning and has left me to pick up all the pieces.” Kaiser missed several days at work to attend court dates for McCormack or her doctor appointments, causing a financial burden.
Kaiser said the assault has been hard on her family.
“My children hugging me a little too tight around the neck has caused me to physically push them away as I am overcome with memories of that morning,” Kaiser said, choking up. “I am left feeling sad, helpless, guilty and angry, while my children watch their mom become very distant when they simply tried to show affection.
“The pressure to make the school a safer place so that something like this will never happen again has consumed me,” she said. “... I am not afraid for myself. Any fear I still have is for my coworkers, for my school children and for my own children.”
Kaiser ended by stating “I am a fighter, I am a survivor,” and asked the judge to sentence the defendant to the maximum sentence allowed by law.
McCormack was given an opportunity to say something to the victim or the court. McCormack, who showed emotion and choked up, said he was sorry and that was all he could say.
After Frey and McCormack had a private conversation, Frey and Prigge approached the bench. When they were done talking with the judge, Frey was not going to fight for a sentencing departure and the defense agreed to the maximum sentence of 68 months -- five years and eight months -- to the first-degree burglary charge. McCormack, a registered sex offender, will serve two-thirds of his sentence in a Minnesota Department of Correctional Facility and then be on supervised probation for the remaining one-third of his sentence.
Frey asked McCormack a series of questions to make sure he understood that he was waiving his rights to any arguments for a shorter sentence. When McCormack was asked the first question -- “Do you understand the 68 months will be an executed sentence” -- McCormack nodded his head. Frey whispered to him “you have to say it” and McCormack said “yes.”
After the series of questions, Aanes sentenced McCormack and dismissed the other three charges. Frey said McCormack has been in custody since his arrest and would file a motion in the court to give him credit for time served.
Once the hearing was over, McCormack stood up and quickly walked to the bailiff to go back to his jail cell.
Though McCormack has been sentenced in the BHS attack in Crow Wing County, he has active criminal cases pending in Cass County.