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Court to resentence convicted Polk County murderer

A Twin Valley, Minn., man convicted of killing his wife eight years ago is set to be resentenced in a Polk County courtroom Tuesday.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ordered in 2005 that 47-year-old Mark Wayne Horn be resentenced, saying the state District Court erred in 2003 when it imposed a punishment that exceeded state sentencing guidelines.

Horn was sentenced to 20 years, or 240 months, which is a 75-month departure from the standard 165 months, according to the Court of Appeals.

At the time, the judge gave three reasons for exceeding the standard sentence: 1) Horn committed the crime in his home when his children were there; 2) Horn's wife was vulnerable because her children were present; and 3) Horn concealed his wife's body.

In legal terms, such reasons are known as "aggravating factors." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that a jury, not a judge, must determine if aggravating factors exist. That ruling was the basis of Horn's appeal.

Last week, prosecutors lobbied for the consideration of a fourth factor: Horn's "failure to render aid" to his wife.

The selection of a jury that would have determined whether there are aggravating factors in this case was set to start Monday, but some horse-trading among attorneys and a judge's ruling led to three factors being thrown out and Horn agreeing to admit to one: the concealment of his wife's body, said Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for the Minnesota attorney general's office, which is prosecuting Horn.

Wogsland said that under Minnesota law, just one aggravating factor can justify a judge's upward departure from state sentencing guidelines.

State law also dictates that a judge cannot impose a sentence greater than the original, said Joel Arnason, one of Horn's attorneys.

Arnason expects the victim's relatives to testify today, along with the babysitter of Horn's children. Horn may make a statement, something he has not done before in court, Arnason said.

In May 2001, Horn's 30-year-old wife, Colleen, was reported missing from the couple's home. Her remains were found two months later in a shallow grave in a remote spot in southeast Polk County, and authorities ruled her death a homicide.

Horn was charged with murder in December 2002. In October 2003, he entered an Alford plea to unintentional second-degree murder as part of a deal with prosecutors. In an Alford plea, the defendant acknowledges that there's sufficient evidence to convict him, but does not admit to committing the crime.