By Emily Welker / The Forum -
MOORHEAD – It’s been nearly eight months since police first began investigating a sexual assault of a woman here in a parking lot, but her father said even after the death of the man charged in the crime, his daughter is still on edge.
“She’s so wired up and so nervous and scared all the time,” said the father, Mike, in a phone interview from his home in Washington. “Even now that he’s gone.”
The Forum is not naming the alleged victim or using the last name of her father to avoid identifying her. It’s The Forum’s general policy to not identify the accusers in allegations of sex abuse or assault.
Richard Lee Haaland, Jr., the man accused of the sexual assault and beating that left the woman’s jaw broken in three places, was found dead in his Fargo home April 16.
Fargo police Deputy Chief Pat Claus said Friday that police haven’t received either a cause or manner of death yet from the state medical examiner, who is conducting an autopsy, but Haaland’s body had no obvious signs of trauma.
Mike said he believes Haaland committed suicide after learning police reports showed Haaland’s DNA was collected from items in the investigation that Mike said were part of the rape kit done on his daughter.
After the alleged attack on Sept. 6, police said they were looking for a man dressed in black who, the woman said, had approached her at 4 a.m. while she was in her car in her apartment parking lot, punched her multiple times in the face and sexually assaulted her. She told police she was able to escape by running away and jumping into another person’s car while the rapist was following her.
Surveillance videos of a man dressed in black in the same part of town led to tips from the public, which led to Haaland’s arrest Sept. 21.
After Haaland was found dead, his defense attorney, Justin Bruntjen, said his client wasn’t planning to plead guilty and maintained his innocence to the end.
One of the police reports released in the now-closed case state that an anonymous caller contacted Moorhead police Detective Mike Detloff Nov. 19 and said that while Haaland was out on bail, he’d tried to kill himself three times and “knows he is going to prison,” according to the caller.
Haaland had bailed out of jail on $100,000 cash bond over the objections of prosecutors, who had asked that his bail be set at $1 million. During a search of his home, police reports state, they had earlier discovered about $35,000 to $40,000 in cash and Haaland’s passport.
Haaland also had a previous rape conviction from 1983 in Becker County (Minn.).
“She called me right away, said ‘I’m scared to death he’s out,’ ” Mike said.
He said his daughter had gone so far as to have her mail forwarded to another city in Minnesota so fewer people would know where she was living while the case was pending.
Even now, he said, he’s not sure of her real address – only that she’s still in the Fargo-Moorhead area. And that she was ready to testify in the upcoming trial.
In spite of the finality of Haaland’s death, Mike said his daughter has not found peace. She hasn’t yet returned to finish her degree at MSUM, which she was only a few credits away from finishing. Nor has she gone back to work, and the broken jaw now has a metal plate in it.
“Her life’s been hell,” Mike said. “He really beat her bad.”
The father said until the DNA evidence came back, his daughter was worried the 46-year-old suspect may be acquitted at trial, even with her testimony against him.
Police reports said that the woman had returned to her home after an evening with friends at The Aquarium and Empire bars in downtown Fargo. She told police she was extremely intoxicated and her recollection of the events of the evening was “hazy.”
Though Mike called Haaland “an animal” and “a predator,” he said his daughter took no satisfaction from Haaland’s death.
At first, he said, she thought the call last week from police meant Haaland had changed his mind and would change his plea to guilty. Instead, they were calling to say the case was closed because Haaland was dead.
His daughter “was kind of torn,” the father said.
“She didn’t like somebody dying. She didn’t feel like there was closure,” he said.