MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- An Eagle Bend man apologized to his estranged wife Friday before he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for assaulting her, kidnapping her and forcing her to go to Mexico with him.
James Sarff, 51, was convicted in August of kidnapping and interstate domestic violence.
Prosecutors said Sarff kidnapped Connie Sarff, 49, from her Long Prairie home in February after nearly 25 years of domestic abuse. They said he choked her, dragged her naked to his Jeep, then drove her to Mexico, where she was afraid to escape.
After the Jeep broke down, they crossed the border back into the United States twice. A suspicious customs agent took them into custody, and James Sarff was indicted by a federal grand jury July 10.
U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery said she gave Sarff a longer sentence than the seven to nine years recommended under the federal sentencing guidelines because his abuse was particularly degrading and cruel. She said a videotape of the victim the day after she was found showed that she had been harmed.
"It didn't look unlike tapes of prisoners of war," she said.
In a statement before his sentence was handed down, James Sarff told Connie Sarff and their family he was sorry and called her "my first love, my only love. ...
"I have learned that I can't make her love me. All I can do is be someone she can love. The rest is up to her. It doesn't matter how much I care for her, some people don't come back."
Connie Sarff sobbed audibly as he read the statement.
During the time Connie Sarff was missing, some family members and friends believed she was dead, in part because James Sarff called his sister the day after the couple disappeared to say, "I killed her."
One person who believed she was dead was David John, who was seeing Connie Sarff romantically and who was at the apartment sleeping the night she was abducted. John killed himself after she disappeared, and a suicide note indicated he felt responsible for being unable to stop the kidnapping.
In his statement, James Sarff also apologized to John's family.
Sarff previously was convicted of abusing his wife so badly in the late 1970s that she had to have a kidney removed. He was convicted of domestic abuse, but his sentence was stayed.
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