Minn. woman sentenced for attempted murder
DULUTH -- Natausha Rae Smith was the ringleader of a vigilante-style attack on a man who was gagged with a padlock, beaten with nunchucks and left for dead in the woods outside Duluth last year.
She’s also the product of a traumatic life that started with severe childhood abuse.
Both factors clearly weighed on 6th Judicial District Judge Shaun Floerke as he contemplated a major decision at her sentencing Monday, April, 22. After sitting in silence for a few moments at the conclusion of a nearly hour long hearing, the judge recited a saying before announcing his decision.
“Hurt people hurt people,” he told those gathered in his Duluth courtroom. “I can’t think of a better example than that.”
Floerke sentenced Smith to a guideline term of 17 ½ years in prison — denying both her request for leniency and the prosecution’s motion for an extended sentence.
Smith is one of five defendants convicted in the case, which was fueled by a belief that the victim may have sexually assaulted a child — an allegation that was never legally substantiated.
Authorities said Smith lured the victim to her residence on March 2, 2018, recruiting her niece, Kimberly Jade Neadeau, to help her get him to the ground using a choking maneuver and hitting him over the head with nunchucks before tying him to a chair.
Smith left the home and returned later with Wade Sorensen, Cristy Lynn Tjaden and Quinton John Mock, according to documents. They used a bandana to secure a padlock in the man's mouth as a gag and then put him in Tjaden's vehicle and drove around for about an hour.
The victim told police that he heard talk of "finishing him off" and "disposing" of him before the assault eventually culminated when the assailants pushed him out of the car and rolled him into the woods. The victim reported that Sorensen attempted to slit his throat but that he was able to avoid it by pushing his head into the snow.
Sorensen and Mock kicked and stomped on the back of the victim's neck multiple times, and the man played dead until the assault ended and the assailants left, according to documents. The victim testified that he was able to slowly inch his way out of the woods up to the road, where a passing car stopped to help him.
The victim was “covered in blood and lumps,” with swelling on his face and ligature marks on his wrists and ankles, but was released after a short hospitalization.
Floerke in February found Smith guilty of aiding and abetting attempted first-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, kidnapping and third-degree assault. The judge issued the verdict after Smith waived her right to a jury.
Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Vicky Wanta said the entire incident would never have happened if not for Smith. She said Smith instigated the kidnapping and assault, bringing others in for help over the course of the day.
“What Ms. Smith and her co-defendants did to (the victim) was more brutal, more cruel, more violent than some murders,” Wanta told the court.
The prosecutor asked Floerke to impose consecutive sentences on Smith’s convictions, resulting in a prison term in excess of 22 years.
Wanta said that uncommon step would be the “only fair and just way to punish someone for the 10 hours of torture that (the victim) had to endure.”
“This case is so much more than a mid- or low-level felony that comes through this courthouse, and I think it’s important to recognize that,” she said. “Anything less than consecutive sentencing is a break.”
Defense attorney Gerald Wallace cited his client’s “horrific life story,” which was marked by years of abuse and trauma, as the cause of her actions.
“Punishing someone for a traumatic reaction doesn’t feel to me like the appropriate answer here,” he told the court.
Wallace said the attack was a spontaneous reaction to the belief that the victim had sexually abused a child — not part of a “coldly calculated plan.”
Asking the judge to impose probation, or at least a below-guideline sentence, the defense attorney said the case was out of character for Smith, who had never before been convicted of a violent crime.
“Ms. Smith has had an awful life and this is one action — one day,” Wallace told the court.
Smith herself addressed the judge, both apologizing for her actions and continuing to insist that the abuse allegations were founded.
“I am trying to make up for the selfish and thoughtless things I did that brought me here today,” she said, barely audible through her sobbing. “Going through this has broken me down to damn near nothing.”
Floerke agreed that Smith had endured a traumatic life — but also referenced the testimony of the victim, who twice took the witness stand to recount the brutal attack.
“I have to carry both stories in my heart,” the judge said. “I try to balance it the best I can.”
Case winding down
Smith must serve at least two-thirds of the sentence — 11 years and 8 months — before she is eligible for supervised release. She was the fourth defendant to be sentenced in the case, with the final hearing scheduled for next month.
Sorensen, who was convicted by a jury on identical charges, was sentenced by Floerke earlier this month to more than 19 years in prison.
Mock pleaded guilty to third-degree assault and aiding and abetting kidnapping and is currently serving a 74-month prison sentence.
Neadeau pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting kidnapping and second-degree assault. She received a stay of imposition that has her serving one year in jail and 10 years of supervised probation.
Tjaden pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting kidnapping. She will be sentenced May 10.