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Published December 31, 2008, 12:00 AM

Frazee woman turns self in

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – A rural Frazee, Minn., woman wanted by the law for not appearing to testify against her husband in a criminal sexual conduct case earlier this month turned herself into authorities here Tuesday morning.

By: By Nathan Bowe, Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – A rural Frazee, Minn., woman wanted by the law for not appearing to testify against her husband in a criminal sexual conduct case earlier this month turned herself into authorities here Tuesday morning.

Virginia Briard, the wife of prominent Frazee hog farmer Robert Briard, has been the focus of a law enforcement hunt since Dec. 9, when she first failed to appear at her husband’s trial. A jury later acquitted him of felony first- and second-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Virginia Briard, 52, showed up at the Becker County Sheriff’s Department dispatch window about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and surrendered to authorities. She was fingerprinted, photographed and booked into the Becker County Jail.

She was arraigned a few hours later, and cash bail or bond was set at $200,000.

She had contacted a bail bondsman and was expected to be out of jail by Tuesday afternoon, according to her attorney, Kent D. Marshall of Barrett, Minn., who also assisted with the defense of Robert Briard during the trial.

Briard gave no indication of where she had been for three weeks, but Marshal said he plans a vigorous defense and he doesn’t think the charges “will make it to trial.”

At the bail hearing, Marshall had asked that she be released without bail, and Assistant County Attorney Gretchen Thilmony, who is prosecuting the case, had asked bail or bond be set at $250,000.

Thilmony said she was satisfied that bail had been set at $200,000, but Marshall said the bail was excessive.

“That’s the kind of bond you usually see on a violent felon on the run,” he said. “She is not a flight risk. She has lived here all her life.”

“Taking the facts as true, as alleged in the complaint,” Thilmony said, “she eluded the criminal justice system. She was a critical witness in the Robert Briard case.”

Virginia Briard has been charged in Becker County District Court with five felony counts of criminal contempt of court, one for each day she failed to appear to testify at the trial.

She gave a statement to Becker County sheriff’s investigators on Oct. 25, 2006, allegedly saying that her husband made certain admissions to her regarding the accusations against him.

Robert Briard, prior to his trial, challenged the admissibility of that statement, seeking to have it excluded.

But the court ruled that Virginia Briard’s testimony was not privileged and therefore admissible at the criminal trial of her husband.

After losing that hearing, she allegedly made herself scarce.

She was first served a subpoena in October, which was received at home by her husband.

When the trial was postponed, she was served a new subpoena at her home Dec. 3, which was received by her son, Ashley Briard, 36, who is co-operator of the Briard Hog Farm.

She is accused of ignoring numerous letters from the Becker County Attorney’s Office and willfully thwarting efforts to contact her.

Although the charges technically carry a prison term and fine, the presumed penalty under the state’s sentencing guidelines is a stayed prison sentence and jail time.

Her attorney, Marshall, accused the Becker County Sheriff’s Department of being overly aggressive in its search for Virginia Briard.

“The kids (grown Briard children) have had deputies looking in their windows at 9 or 10 at night,” he said in an interview. “The farm has been ransacked. Somebody kicked the door in and ransacked the house.”

They left behind a business card from the sheriff’s department, and left the door open to the elements when they left, said Marshall and one of the Briard sons.

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon disputed the allegations. He said the door to Virginia and Robert Briard’s farmhouse had been forced open by officers, but the house was not “ransacked,” officers looked only in spaces large enough to hold a person.

“We didn’t ransack the house,” he said. “We did the entry on a felony warrant for her arrest – we knew she was hiding,” Gordon said.

The warrant was executed on the morning of Dec. 26. The entry was videotaped with a squad car video and photos were taken of the home before, during, and after the search, he said.

The door would not have been left open, he said. “They would have secured it before they left.”

As to deputies checking on the homes of the Briard siblings, Gordon said, “what they did there was similar to anything you’d do with a felony warrant … we’ve been going to all the houses she’s been known to frequent.”

It’s not uncommon for officers to check windows as they walk around a house to secure entrances prior to knocking on a door looking for an accused fugitive, he said.

“The guys were told to keep an eye on them (the homes of the Briard children). The Briards were well aware there was a felony warrant,” Gordon said.

Robert Briard still faces charges of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, a serious felony, for alleged contact with a girl under the age of 10 in the summer of 2004.

He allegedly had contact with her genital area in an incident that started with him rubbing her legs at his lake cabin in Becker County, according to court records.

Briard also faces three gross misdemeanor charges of fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct for allegedly engaging in nonconsensual sexual contact – that involved kissing or touching her breasts – with a woman over a four to five year period in various places in Becker County, according to court records.

Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz said he has not yet decided whether to take the remaining charges to trial or drop them following the jury verdict on the first set of charges.

Fritz said earlier that trial testimony by Virginia Briard would have been “essential to the administration of justice … of particular frustration was that the family refused to cooperate with law enforcement regarding Mrs. Briard’s whereabouts,” Fritz said. “Regrettably, we were unable to present to the jury this material evidence.”

Virginia Briard’s next court date has been set for Jan. 20.

The Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.

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