Judge upholds murder sentence of Polk County man
CROOKSTON -- More than five years after a judge sentenced Mark Horn to 20 years behind bars for murdering his wife, another judge didn't budge from that prison term when it came to resentencing him Tuesday.
"Really, nothing has changed about this offense at all," prosecutor David Voigt said. "Certainly what happened to Colleen Horn remains the same, and there's nothing that can change what happened to her."
The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered that 47-year-old Horn be resentenced, saying the state District Court erred in 2003 when it imposed a punishment that went beyond state sentencing guidelines. Horn's sentence of 240 months was a 75-month departure from the standard 165 months.
The first judge cited three reasons, or aggravating factors, for exceeding the standard sentence: 1) Horn committed the crime in his home when his children were there; 2) Horn's wife was vulnerable because her children were present; and 3) Horn concealed his wife's body.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that a defendant must admit to the presence of aggravating factors or a jury must determine that they exist. That ruling was the basis of Horn's appeal.
When Horn's case came before Judge Tamara Yon of state District Court on Tuesday, only the concealment factor, which Horn recently admitted to, was in play.
Joel Arnason, one of Horn's attorneys, argued that it's not unusual for someone who commits a murder to conceal the body. He said Horn hid his wife's body out of panic.
"It was an act of selfishness and cowardice, not one of cold, calculated cruelty," Arnason said.
Voigt asked the judge to consider the impact that Horn's hiding of the body for two months had on his 4-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and other family.
"The fact that he gave them that false hope was so devastating for them," Voigt said. "It's just so much worse when you add to that this false hope."
Voigt also said Horn created a "ruse" after he buried his wife in a shallow grave in southeast Polk County, including filing for divorce, requesting child support and saying that his wife had walked out on her family.
Arnason argued that hiding the body lessened the impact Colleen Horn's death had on her kids. "We believe it probably would have been more traumatic on these children if they had learned immediately that their mother had been killed," he said.
The prosecution asked Yon to reaffirm the 20-year sentence; the defense requested a three-year reduction.
Horn addressed the court, saying that he misses his kids.
"I wish I could do something, say something to ease the pain for everybody, but I know I can't," he said. "The only thing I can say is I'm sorry."
Before announcing the sentence, Yon said she believes Horn's concealment of the body went beyond panic and that making up a story about her disappearance had a negative impact on the family.
The judge gave Horn credit for the time he's already served. Horn has the right to appeal his sentence and conviction.
In May 2001, Colleen Horn was reported missing from the couple's home in Twin Valley, Minn. Her remains were found two months later. Authorities ruled her death a homicide, but were not able to determine the exact cause of death.
Horn was charged with murder in December 2002. In October 2003, he entered an Alford plea -- acknowledging that there's sufficient evidence to convict him, but not admitting to committing the crime -- to second-degree unintentional murder as part of a deal with prosecutors.
Colleen Horn's father and siblings shared their victim impact statements in court Tuesday.
"I won't see her again -- no more holidays, birthdays or family gatherings," her father, John Amundsen Sr., wrote.
Amundsen asked that the judge show no remorse.
"Those two months that Colleen was missing, Mark invited me to go fishing with him and my grandchildren. I didn't go. I didn't want to -- I just wanted to know where my daughter was."
Jim Boisse, Erskine, said his sister's death has left him bitter.
"During those months that she was missing, I waited and waited from a call from Colleen, but she never did call," Boisse wrote.
After the hearing, Colleen Horn's relatives said they felt justice was done.
"Nothing's going to bring her back, but ... there has to be some accountability here," said Colleen Horn's sister, Rocksann Weiby.
Weiby remembered her sister as a beautiful woman. "She was a wonderful mother and a wonderful sister," Weiby said. "She had a heart of gold."