Journal Sentinel [Milwaukee WI]
July 8, 2022
By Laura Schulte
A former Northwoods priest convicted of sexually assaulting boys could be released on parole this summer, after serving about 4 years of a 30-year sentence.
Thomas Ericksen will go before the Wisconsin Parole Commission in August, according to Department of Corrections, but a date has not yet been set.
Ericksen, 75, was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2019 on two charges of sexually assaulting boys while stationed at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Winter in the 1980s. He is also 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. He is currently being held in the Jackson Correctional Institution in Black River Falls.
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 2019, just three months after he was sentenced. He was also eligible in 2020 but waived his opportunity to go before the Parole Commission.
At least 11 men claimed that the former priest abused them as children or teens in multiple different counties across the Northwoods of Wisconsin, either by filing reports with police or in speaking with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin reporters. The former priest was arrested in November 2018, nearly a decade after victims first began sharing their stories with Sawyer County investigators.
The Parole Commission will take into consideration statements from victims about how Ericksen’s abuse affected their lives. Oliver Buchino, a records associate with the Department of Corrections, said there are already several impact statements on file that will be taken into consideration as the Parole Commission members deliberate.
Parole consideration is given only for inmates who committed a crime before Dec. 31, 1999. 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.
When Ericksen’s parole hearing is scheduled could be affected by the fact that the Parole Commission is currently lacking a chairman, after John Tate II resigned in early June. The Commission does not have a meeting scheduled for the month of July, but commissioners have recommended a new chair, Buchino said.
Laura Schulte can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.