TWIN FALLS • David Knutsen’s friend offered him three choices on the night of May 6, 2010, he told a Twin Falls judge.
Knutsen could go to prison for the rest of his life. He could kill himself. Or he could go on the run.
Knutsen — found guilty that day of four felonies, each carrying up to 25 years in prison — chose the third option. He fled to Nevada, putting in motion events that led him back to TwinFalls and his sentencing on Jan. 29, 2013.
Knutsen, 32, of Filer, will spend at least the next 18 to 25 years in prison for sexually abusing a vulnerable female while both he and the victim were patients at St. Luke’s Canyon View Behavioral Health Services. The 18 to 25 years represents four sentences all to run concurrently; he’ll serve additional time for the remainder of a sentence for a 1999 lewd conduct charge.
Knutsen, a registered sex offender, was convicted by a jury in May 2010 of four counts of sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult following the January 2009 incident at Canyon View.
After the conviction, Knutsen fled to Nevada and was arrested on charges including being a felon with a firearm and assaulting an officer. He then spent 2 1/2 years in a Nevada prison before being returned to Twin Falls to be sentenced for the Canyon View case.
At Tuesday’s sentencing, Twin Falls County Deputy Prosecutor Suzanne Craig described the victim, a then 22-year-old woman, as a vulnerable adult unable to protect herself.
Craig said the woman is developmentally delayed and complied with the things Knutsen asked her to do.
“The community is not safe to have this sex offender in its midst,” Craig said. “No one else should be victimized by this man.”
Craig asked that Knutsen be sentenced to 25 years in prison on each of the four counts.
Knutsen’s defense attorney, Doug Nelson, said he was unaware what the prosecutor would ask for ahead of time and called the request “shocking.”
Nelson argued that the law to protect vulnerable adults was written in order to protect them from those in power, such as caregivers.
“You can see where this statute makes sense,” Nelson said. “But here you have someone who is himself mentally ill.”
Nelson described Knutsen as someone who was not operating at his full capacity while he was a patient at Canyon View, but also as a low-functioning adult in general. Nelson questioned how Knutsen could be expected to know the victim could not legally consent to sexual activity.
“It’s a professional opinion we’re asking a very non-professional to make,” Nelson argued.
Knutsen spoke at length during the hearing, explaining his motivations for leaving the state, his experience in the Nevada prison and why he was in Canyon View.
“I was different when I went there,” he said. “I wasn’t functioning right. I think about it and it’s like a nightmare.”
Before imposing the 18- to 25-year sentence, Bevan said he found it significant that Knutsen minimized and rationalized his behavior rather than accept more responsibility.
Putting Knutsen on probation would minimize the seriousness of the crime, the judge said.
The incident involving Knutsen was one of two that prompted sweeping changes to Canyon View’s safety procedures, including 31 new security cameras and changing patient-contact rules, after state inspectors determined the facility was unable to supervise patients and protect them from sexual harassment.