ST PETER — Saying he was too intoxicated to remember what happened, a Mankato man pleaded guilty Tuesday to sexually assaulting a woman on Valentine’s Day in 2011.
Prison authorities were already looking for Thomas James Zuehlke, 41, when he attempted to sexually assault a woman in a Mankato apartment on Feb. 14, 2011. The victim’s 10-year-old son was hiding in his bedroom during the attack.
Zuehlke had been released from prison under intense supervision in December 2010 when he walked away from house arrest the day before the sexual assault.
Facing charges of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, first-degree burglary and kidnapping, Zuehlke was scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.
He agreed to enter a Norgaard plea to take advantage of a plea agreement that reduced the charges to a single count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Norgaard pleas allow people to plead guilty with the understanding they don’t remember what happened due to intoxication or amnesia.
Zuehlke told District Court Judge Bradley Walker that he remembered being at the residence and seeing the victim there, but he didn’t remember anything else.
He is facing a presumed sentence of 75 months in prison, which is close to the amount of prison time that would have resulted from the more serious charges, said Pat McDermott, assistant Blue Earth County attorney.
“It’s just a few months less of a sentence and it kept the victim and a few young witnesses from having to take the stand,” he said.
The victim told police two male friends brought Zuehlke to the apartment and she asked them to make him leave after he started showing her suggestive messages on his cellphone. After the three men left, Zuehlke returned alone and forced his way back into the apartment.
She said he cornered her in the bathroom and threatened to harm her child if she attempted to stop him from sexually assaulting him. Telling Zuehlke she would comply after helping the boy brush his teeth in the bathroom, she was able to force Zuehlke out while locking herself and the child inside.
Zuehlke broke in after the woman called a friend. He was on top of the victim and was attempting to remove her clothes when the friend arrived to stop the assault.
Zuehlke served 20 months in prison after reaching a plea deal for a sexual assault in December 2008. That victim reported Zuehlke held a knife to her while he sexually assaulted her. She was able to escape after he fell asleep.
He’s scheduled to be sentenced in July for the latest sexual assault.