Donald Gerald

Donald Gerald, a convicted sex offender, received a 20 year sentence for breaking into homes and peeping through windows of families with young girls during a hearing on Friday at the Burleigh County Courthouse in Bismarck. Gerald, left, was represented by Steve Balaban, right.

Victims of a convicted sex offender who broke into homes and peeped into windows where young girls lived told a district judge their lives were forever changed by his actions.

Donald Gerald, 47, pleaded guilty in December to 12 felony charges related to entering or attempting to enter homes and peering into windows in northwest Bismarck in 2011. The charges include seven counts of Class B felony burglary, two of Class B felony attempted burglary, two for Class C felony surreptitious intrusion and one for Class C felony criminal trespass.

South Central District Judge David Reich sentenced Gerald on Friday morning to 20 years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised probation after listening to six victims explain how Gerald’s actions shattered their senses of security and safety in their own homes.

One woman explained how she called 911 from a corded phone in her bedroom after seeing Gerald in her bedroom doorway and felt helpless as she worried about her children, asleep in their rooms with a strange man in the house.

“I will never forget the utter helplessness I felt,” she told Reich.

The victims told Reich their children are now afraid to be alone. Being startled even slightly can send one girl into a screaming fit, while another girl is no longer able to sleep without closing her bedroom door. Several men described sleeping with weapons nearby, in case Gerald returned to their homes.

The victims asked Reich to put Gerald away for the rest of his life, pointing out that Gerald was on supervised probation and was wearing a GPS monitor on his ankle at the time of the offenses.

“The ankle bracelets weren’t trustworthy. The supervision of him wasn’t trustworthy,” one woman said.

“We know what this guy does,” another woman said. “We know he can’t control himself.”

“I don’t think he should ever see the light of day again,” one man said.

Gerald occasionally closed his eyes and lowered his head during the hearing, at one point appearing to have tears in his eyes.

Police had warned people in Bismarck to keep their doors locked after numerous burglaries in northwest Bismarck from July 2011 through October 2011, including several in which homeowners encountered a man in their homes in the middle of the night.

On Oct. 14, 2011, a man on the 700 block of Brunswick Drive encountered an unknown man walking through his front door at 3:08 a.m. The unknown man was described as barefoot, and he ran out when he saw the homeowner. Police found a pair of tennis shoes in the bushes, and DNA on the shoes came back as a match to Gerald. Police already had tied Gerald to the neighborhood, where numerous other similar break-ins had been reported, by using GPS tracking data. The found shoes also matched footprints outside another girl’s window.

Gerald told officers he was out for a walk, looking at houses and wildlife, in that neighborhood to explain why his GPS tracking showed him in the vicinity at the time the burglary was reported.

Gerald was wearing a GPS monitor on his ankle due to probation conditions in past sex offense cases. The GPS data showed Gerald made as many as 36 visits to some homes, with most of the visits centralizing around girls’ bedrooms. He once attempted to enter a tent where multiple girls were sleeping and peeped in the windows of girls whose homes he did not enter.

Burleigh County Assistant State’s Attorney Pam Nesvig, who prosecuted the case with Assistant State’s Attorney Dawn Deitz, on Friday asked Reich to grant a motion filed by prosecutors to find Gerald a habitual offender, which would allow the judge to double the maximum sentence for felony charges. Reich granted the motion.

Gerald was convicted of surreptitious intrusion in Grand Forks County in 2003. According to the North Dakota attorney general's sex offender website, police in that case were investigating reports of a man peeking in homes when an officer on patrol noticed a vehicle that had been reported to have been in the area during the incidents. Officers stopped the vehicle and found a ski mask, black gloves and a flashlight in Gerald's possession. A neighbor's security camera captured Gerald standing on an air conditioner and looking in windows of a nearby home.

Nesvig said other troubling incidents on Gerald’s criminal history include stalking cases and a case where Gerald hid in the closet in the bedroom of a 10-year-old girl whose mother he had been stalking. His probation could be revoked in that case, Nesvig said.

Nesvig recommended the sentence handed down by Reich, in which Gerald was sentenced to 20 years in prison on the burglary charges, to be followed by suspended maximum sentences on the remaining charges and five years of supervised probation. She acknowledged that the victims wanted longer sentences than the one she offered.

Steve Balaban, Gerald’s public defender, suggested a sentence giving Gerald five years in prison to be followed by supervised probation. He said Gerald had no intention or desire to touch anyone in the homes he entered.

“He wanted to feel like he was part of a family,” Balaban said.

Gerald said little during the hearing, but when asked if he wanted to make a statement on sentencing, he responded, “Just I’m sorry to the families.”

Reich seemed conflicted between giving the sentence recommended by prosecutors and a harsher one. A probation officer who conducted a presentence investigation in the case had suggested two consecutive 20 year sentences. The judge noted Gerald’s criminal history and consistent return to his old habits, along with the harm done to the victims.

“He took something from these people,” Reich said.

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