Roberts man convicted of 10th OWI sentenced to prison
A St. Croix County judge told a chronic drunk driver this week that decisions made during his next prison stint will likely determine how much longer he'll continue wearing a jail uniform.
"If you don't change, sir, you're going to be in orange for the rest of your life," Judge Edward Vlack said Tuesday, July 17, while sentencing Roberts resident Shawn A. Harstad.
Vlack sentenced the 48-year-old to 7 ½ years in prison and eight years on extended supervision. Harstad was convicted in May of his 10th OWI, an offense that occurred March 12, 2017 — just over a month apart from his ninth OWI.
He was convicted by a jury in November 2017 of OWI-ninth stemming from a Feb. 4, 2017, incident. Both of his felony OWIs were initially charged as ninth offenses; it wasn't until Harstad was convicted at trial that the February 2017 case was amended to become his 10th charge.
Vlack's sentence fell in between recommendations from prosecution and Harstad's defense attorney.
St. Croix County Assistant District Attorney Alexis McKinley sought 15 years in prison and another 10 years on supervision, arguing Harstad is a threat to the driving public.
"He is an extreme danger to everybody else and himself," she said.
McKinley told the courtroom how Harstad has spent most of his adult life behind bars behind a "crime potpourri" involving 43 separate convictions, most occurring in Minnesota.
But defense attorney Dan Repka urged Vlack to consider Harstad's hardships, which include a traumatic brain injury and a recent fetal alcohol syndrome diagnosis. There is "something in his brain that's not letting him click properly," Repka said.
He asked Vlack to follow a Department of Corrections recommendation that called for five years in prison.
Harstad's sister, a Ramsey (Minn.) County social worker, expanded on Repka's argument, telling Vlack that fetal alcohol syndrome impacts the part of the brain that allows people to understand consequences and to make rational decisions.
Prison, she argued, "is not the answer" for her brother.
Harstad choked up as he began reading a prepared statement to the court. He had Repka finish reading the letter, which recounted how he came to live in Roberts with his sister after his mother and uncle died, just before his brother took his own life.
"I know I deserve to be punished," Harstad later told Vlack after composing himself. "It's just been a struggle."
Vlack acknowledged the medical and psychological challenges Harstad has endured along the way, but said a change must be made.
"What does it take to try and change you?" the judge asked aloud. "I don't know if that's possible."
The sentence also calls for a three-year license revocation after his release and a mandatory ignition interlock system provision during his two-year probation.
"This is not what you wanted to hear and I don't care," Vlack told Harstad.
"It's what I needed to hear," he responded.