Double assault case ends with 25-year sentence
A South Range man convicted of attacking two women within 12 hours to feed his drug habit will spend 25 years in prison.
On Wednesday, Judge Kelly Thimm sentenced Scott Douglas Berndt Jr., 37, to 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision for beating a woman with a pipe outside her home, and a consecutive five years in prison and five years of extended supervision for dragging another woman off her stool at a Billings Park bar and punching her to steal her wallet. He was also ordered to pay more than $3,000 in restitution.
Berndt pleaded guilty in November in Douglas County Circuit Court to armed robbery and robbery with use of force. Two charges of battery and three counts of retail theft were dismissed but read in for sentencing.
District Attorney Mark Fruehauf stressed the seriousness of the crimes, particularly the pipe attack, which happened in Amy Westman's front yard May 21.
"Being assaulted at 5 a.m. going to your home is the type of thing you see in movies, not something you expect in your life," Fruehauf said.
Westman saw the man walking her way as she got out of the car that morning, but didn't think much of it until she heard him approach.
"When I heard your feet rushing through the grass and saw your shadow, I turned to ask you, 'Can I help you?' Sadly enough, I only got the word 'Can' out of my mouth before you landed your first three blows to my back," Westman told the court while Berndt wiped away tears.
He hit her repeatedly for two minutes as they stood face to face, Westman said, finally making off with her backpack, which contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, eyeliner and tampons.
"You basically beat me for $20 worth of toiletries," Westman said.
If he'd talked to her instead, Berndt would have learned Westman's boyfriend was a former co-worker and friend of his.
"My world got so small," Westman said.
That afternoon, Berndt attacked another woman at a Billings Park bar. They'd sat next to each other for about 40 minutes, conversing a bit. Berndt left to go outside, then came in and pulled the woman off her bar stool, punching her until he got her wallet.
The South Range man left behind a jacket in a plastic bag. Inside the jacket were an earnings statement, Douglas County Jail bail receipt and shoplifting citation, all with Berndt's name on them, as well as a syringe of meth.
When Berndt was arrested for the second crime, he confessed to attacking Westman with the pipe.
"He admitted to it openly. That's a smidgen of conscience," Westman said. "He's got something there left."
Defense attorney Chris Gramstrup told the court that from the first time they met, Berndt has shown remorse. In June, Berndt asked the attorney to deliver sealed letters — apologies — to the victims. The South Range man has a 23-year history of drug abuse, Gramstrup said, and was desperate that night.
"That is not an excuse for what he did," the attorney said, but it explains his actions.
These were very personal crimes, Thimm said, but not completely random. Berndt picked out his victims, females he felt he could overpower and take advantage of.
"He did what he did so he could get away with it," the judge said, and he didn't stop after the first attack.
Although Berndt showed remorse and pleaded guilty to the crimes, he has 27 prior convictions which resulted in 14 jail sentences and eight terms of probation, five of which were revoked.
Berndt has had eight opportunities to change his behavior, Thimm said, but he chose to escalate.
"I don't consider Mr. Berndt to be an evil person, but he's done evil things," the judge said.
One of the main factors in deciding the sentence was the need to protect the public.
"How much is it worth for us to feel safe walking to our own homes?" Thimm asked. "What is that worth?"
Justice was served, Westman said after the sentencing. The brutality of the attacks was recognized, and the prison terms were consecutive so both victims were acknowledged.
In the weeks following the attack, Westman watched her son graduate and threw him a party. She participated one-armed in a putt putt golf challenge and didn't miss a day of work. She continues to walk through her crime scene every single day.
"I am not your victim," Westman told Berndt.
The South Range man apologized in court to the two victims for the physical, mental and emotional pain he caused, as well as the inconvenience of court appearances. He said he plans to use his time wisely by working toward his high school equivalency diploma and taking advantage of treatment programs.
Westman was glad to hear Berndt would concentrate on improving his life while in prison.
"I can't get anything out of this, but it's another chapter of my life that can now close," Westman said.