A closer look into sentencing of a murderer
Confessed murderer Jeffery Allen Brooks, 54, Alexandria, was sentenced to 35 years in prison June 12 for the killing of Diane Fortenberry, 51, of Osakis.
Fortenberry was beaten to death by Brooks after he was caught in the act of burglarizing the Fortenberry home in rural Osakis just over a year ago in May.
The sentencing hearing marked an end to a year's long legal journey marked with accusations of misconduct on the part of court appointed attorneys and a failed attempt to change Brooks' guilty plea.
It also, in some small measure, brought about some closure to the Fortenberry family, though they felt the judgment was less than desired.
The victims were allowed to give an impact statement to the court. All asked the court to deliver the maximum sentence allowed by law, 40 years.
It was an emotional time for all who were gathered in the courtroom, for the family and Brooks too, as he sobbed, sometimes uncontrollably, throughout the proceedings.
"One of our greatest treasures is not here," said Becky Hensley, a friend of Diane's. "There will never be enough justice possible...Her bright shining smile could light up a room, warm anyone's heart and in turn make anyone smile."
"That day Mr. Brooks left a husband without his best friend, children without a mother, a mother without her child, and families throughout this community terrified," Hensley said. "There's nothing that can bring back Diane, there will never be enough justice."
Terri Fortenberry, Diane's sister-in-law also spoke of the great loss the family was feeling.
"The death of Diane has devastated our entire family," Fortenberry said.
Michael Fortenberry, Diane's husband, spoke on behalf of their son Colter, who was the first to find his mother after the incident.
"This man took away the most important person in my life," he said.
Michael then spoke on his own behalf, finally getting his chance in open court to confront his wife's killer.
"I lost my best friend," Michael said. "We had plans and goals for our retirement years."
Michael explained that they felt so safe at their home in Osakis that they never locked the doors. That if anybody ever wanted something, they could take it.
"Everyday I live with Diane's dead body going onto a gurney in my face, seeing her grey face, knowing that I'd probably never get to tell her I loved her again and that I'd miss her," Michael said.
Michael went on to explain that the family was able to find some solace in that they were able to bring her ashes to Yellowstone, just in time for what would have been their 20th anniversary.
"She'll always be a guardian angel for me and I'll always know that she's looking out over us," Michael continued.
Even those who spoke on behalf of Brooks offered their heartfelt apologies and prayers for the Fortenberry family. They too spoke of the man they knew, the man they thought wasn't capable of this. Lifelong friend Pastor Lynette Orr was the first to speak on behalf of Brooks. "We have pastors praying all over the country for you, especially your boys," Pastor Orr said. "We are so sorry."
Roosevelt Mansfield, Brooks' nephew, commiserated with the pain the Fortenberry's were feeling.
"I'm a husband, I have kids, just seeing you guys, sorry, I understand your anger, from the bottom of my heart," Mansfield said. "This is so outside of his character."
"My uncle deserves his consequence, I couldn't imagine how you guys feel, Mansfield said. "God is the ultimate judge, and when all is said and done I believe justice will be served. And I will continue to pray for you guys."
Judge Jay D. Carlson then offered the state's prosecution the opportunity to present their argument for the maximum penalty.
"It's difficult to put into words just how devastating the crime was, this was to the family, and to the community," said lead prosecutor, David Voigt.
Voigt continued, offering some background on how the Fortenberry's moved to Minnesota after losing their home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"They were living that idyllic life until that one day when the defendant came and snuffed it all out."
The prosecution went on to explain how the sentencing system in Minnesota is set up to allow an inmate to come back and be a productive member of society if they serve out their sentence and show good behavior.
Under current sentencing guidelines, if Brooks didn't receive the maximum sentence of 40 years without parole, he would be let out after serving two-thirds of his time with good behavior.
The defense argued for a reduced sentence. Brooks' court appointed attorney Jim Austad said that nothing in his past was violent in nature and that he never laid a hand on woman before.
"There was no torture, he had no interest in causing the pain that has prolonged these proceedings," Austad said.
"This isn't Jeffrey Brooks -- that's what everybody says." Austad added. "He didn't intend the result."
Carlson then allowed Brooks the opportunity to speak on his behalf.
"I would first like to say I'm sorry," Brooks said, sobbing. "I know I could say I'm sorry a trillion times and it wouldn't be much good because it wouldn't bring Diane back."
"In those seconds that went by, if I could trade my life for hers I would do it, in a heartbeat."
"There's nobody in the courtroom that feels worse than I do. It's a tragedy, Diane didn't deserve this."
"I didn't mean to kill her. This is something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life and there is no sentence that could be worse than that to me."
"I understand the hatred, I understand the pain, and I understand everything you said to me. I don't blame you. I'm sorry that you can't grow old together, I'm sorry I took your best friend from you."
After an hour of statements, Carlson delivered the court's sentence.
"In this case you have committed a very violent crime that has caused unimaginable suffering, pain and sorrow to the family," Carlson said. "You've also made everyone in the community a victim. They no longer feel safe and secure in their home."
"The court does believe that one significant factor in the case is that you've consistently not denied committing the crime and have expressed your remorse."
Carlson ordered 420 months with 381 days credit for time served in Todd County.
A total of 280 months must be served and 130 months may be served under supervised released with good behavior while in prison. If Brooks has even one behavioral infraction in prison, he will be forced to serve out the remainder of the 35-year sentence.
Brooks must also submit a DNA sample for testing and pay restitution to the family.