Uptown kidnappers face felony charges

A woman who was kidnapped at gunpoint from an Uptown street last fall escaped by urging her attackers to stop for gas, according to the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. Three young men are now facing charges of criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and auto theft.

Two of the suspects are 17 years old and in custody; prosecutors will petition that they be tried as adults. Police are searching for a third suspect, Deonte Darnell Lawson, age 23, a resident of the Lowry Hill East neighborhood. Lawson graduated from Southwest High School in 2013, according to Minneapolis Public Schools.

“This was a horrendous ordeal for the young woman and she rightly feared for her life,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a statement. “She showed great courage and cleverness in finally escaping. Police did a good job of investigating and we expect to prove the case in court and then ask for high sentences.”

The following account is alleged in court documents: A woman in her mid-20s walked behind her Uptown apartment building to retrieve something from her car the night of Oct. 15. Three unknown men forced her into the back seat of her car at gunpoint. They drove around as she remained in the car and used her credit card to buy food at White Castle. They took the woman to a secluded, wooded area and held her down, forcing her to perform sexual acts. They dragged her back to the vehicle and began driving to a rural area, and she became fearful they would kill her. She convinced the driver they needed to stop for gas, and when they stopped at a gas station in Scandia, she escaped barefoot and hid behind a tree in a nearby wooded area. One of the men attempted to look for her and gave up, and they drove away in her car.

The gas station was closed, but the woman pounded on a door to find two people living above the station, and called 911 at about 4:26 a.m. Officers said her clothing was dirty, her bare feet were covered in mud and she had small cuts and scratches on her face and hands.

The woman underwent a sexual assault examination, and the results show that while 99.9 percent of the population can be excluded as a DNA match to semen found on the victim, the defendants cannot be excluded, according to court documents.

The woman’s credit card rang up unauthorized purchases at  White Castle, Foot Locker, Walmart in Brooklyn Center, a Holiday gas station and Super America, according to the complaint. Surveillance footage showed the suspects making purchases with her card and leaving in her vehicle, according to the complaint.

According to court documents: The afternoon of Oct. 16, police responded to a report of reckless driving near 47th & Beard and discovered the woman’s vehicle. A 17-year-old suspect said he was driving, and officers arrested him wearing a jacket similar to one shown in a Super America surveillance photo. The juvenile denied any involvement in the sexual assault, and said he received the vehicle from a friend and didn’t know where it came from. Court documents state that when he took off his pants for a sexual assault examination, the woman’s credit card, wrapped in a Super America receipt, fell from his pants.

The suspect allegedly told investigators he had spent time with a second juvenile suspect earlier that day. Police said the second juvenile had been arrested in November on unrelated charges wearing the same sweatshirt captured on the prior surveillance video.

Officers said the two juveniles have been arrested together multiple times before and after the incident.

The East Calhoun and CARAG neighborhood associations are hosting a personal safety and robbery prevention workshop at Calhoun Square on March 24. The event runs from 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m., taught by self-defense expert Mary Brandl.