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32 Years on the Run: An Unconventional Cold Case

September 04, 2018 10:53 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- This spring, something happened to investigators in Olmsted County that doesn't happen all too often. A man, who was wanted for sexual assault back in 1986, fled the country and then in April, mysteriously returned to the U.S. where law enforcement recognized him and arrested him for that still valid outstanding warrant.

Back in May of 1986, a warrant was issued for Stephen Bratrud, who at the time was living in Olmsted County. A detective with the Rochester Police Department received a referral from the Fountain Lake Treatment Center, saying a 15-year-old girl, known to Bratrud, had reported being sexually assaulted by him for ten years starting when she was five years old.

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Court documents say when the warrant was issued, Bratrud fled to South America, Bolivia specifically, which was an area he was known to frequent. For the next 32 years, he was untraceable.

“When someone gets to a foreign country. It's nearly impossible to get them back,” Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem said.

But in April of 2018, the impossible happened.  Bratrud returned to the United States and was arrested in Wood County, Texas.

“He came back to get some kind of medical care. I believe he was a veteran and he may have been seeking some kind of treatment through the VA,” said Ostrem. “For whatever reason, he was recognized by law enforcement.  In the course of their process of taking down names and checking things out, his warrant popped up.”

After being arrested in Texas, he was extradited back to Olmsted County where he faced those 1986 sexual assault charges.

“The laws and the sentencing provisions have changed dramatically in 30 some years. The presumptive sentence if he was found guilty of the top count I think in this case was 40 some months in prison. Today that same charge would be 144 months,” Ostrem said. 

That's a difference of nine years in prison. According to Ostrem the courts must obey the ruling from 1986.

When Bratrud was sentenced on August 20th, he plead guilty to 2nd degree- criminal sexual misconduct with someone he knew, under the age of 16.  He received 25 years of probation with just a few months of jail time served.

“In our world today it's disheartening to think that basically as a community and a state we were so naive back then, to think that that was a low-level felony,” Ostrem said. 

A felony that has changed the life of Bratrud's victim, who Olstrem tells me still lives in this area.

“I think she hoped that he would never come back. We had some good conversations with her. She was very understanding and very willing to participate in the process,” said Ostrem.

Once released from jail, Bratrud will be required to stay in Olmsted, Fillmore, or Dodge County. He will need to participate in community service and attend sex offender treatment programs.

“There are a lot of things about this person that are a little unsettling. But we deal with this on a fairly frequent basis and I have great confidence in our probation department that they can monitor him and keep our community safe,” Ostrem said.

Another unusual twist to this story, Ostrem says Bratrud was never charged with fleeing the country because he had yet to appear in court on the sexual assault charges 32 years ago.  
                
Ostrem says if Bratrud had been facing more than a just a warrant for his arrest, it would have been a different story.

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Noelle Anderson

Copyright 2018 - KAAL-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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