Former Priest Sentenced to 30 Years for Molesting Boys Gets Parole Hearing after Seven Months
By Laura Schulte
February 20, 2020
|Former Catholic priest Thomas Ericksen consults with defense attorney Ryan Reid during a sentencing hearing on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at Sawyer County Courthouse in Hayward, Wis. Ericksen was sentenced to a total of 30 years in prison on two counts of sexual assault of a child. Tork Mason/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin (Photo: Tork Mason/USA Today NETWORK-Wisconsin)|
HAYWARD - A former Northwoods priest convicted of sexually assaulting boys could be released on parole less than a year after he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Thomas Ericksen will go before the Wisconsin Parole Commission in April, according to a letter the state Department of Corrections sent to one of his victims, who shared it with the Wausau Daily Herald. The hearing doesn't mean Ericksen will be released, only that he is eligible for parole.
The Parole Commission will take into consideration statements from victims about how Ericksen's crimes affected them and their feelings about whether he should be released early, the letter said.
Steve Weix, a Merrill educator, was one of the first victims to go to investigators a decade ago, and was the first to reach out to the Daily Herald about the former priest. Weix said he plans to respond to the potential parole and let it be known that Ericksen shouldn't walk free this soon.
He said he's shocked the letter arrived so soon.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "A lot of people just spent 10 years trying to get him convicted, and it finally happened in September. Now they're already looking at paroling him in April? It doesn't make any sense."
Ericksen, 72, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on two charges of sexually assaulting boys while stationed at St. Peter's Catholic Church in Winter in the 1980s. He also will be registered as a sex offender for life.
He was given 20 years on one charge and 10 years on the other. He was credited with 314 days of time served in jail since his arrest, both in Minnesota before he was extradited and in Wisconsin.
The sentence was described as an "indeterminate" prison term, meaning the judge didn't have control over how long Ericksen would actually serve before he's paroled. He was eligible for parole as early as December, just three months after he was sentenced, according to Department of Corrections records.
At least 11 men claimed that the former priest abused them as children or teens, either by filing reports with police or in speaking with the Daily Herald, which is part of USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. The former priest was arrested in November 2018, eight years after victims first approached Sawyer County investigators with their stories.
For Weix, the possibility of Ericksen getting out of prison after a total of a year and a half in custody is not justice.
"I think it's been proven that he deserved every year he got," he said. "He deserves to be held accountable."
Ericksen is being held at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution, where he was moved in January, according to information from the Department of Corrections. Before New Lisbon, he was held in the Dodge Correctional Institution for nearly three months.
Parole consideration is given only for inmates who committed a crime before Dec. 31, 1999, according to Corrections. That was before Wisconsin enacted what's known as a "truth in sentencing" law, which means inmates generally must serve the entire sentence given to them by the court, with some exceptions for early release.
Because Ericksen committed the crimes before that law passed, his prison term is up to the Parole Commission based on his behavior while incarcerated.
Generally, inmates serving indeterminate sentences must serve at least a quarter of their sentence and must be released after two-thirds of their sentence, according to a State Bar of Wisconsin publication. Using that framework, Ericksen would be required to serve at least 7.5 years in prison and would be released after 20 years.