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Published January 27, 2014, 04:56 PM

Duluth man sentenced for raping 88-year-old woman

Andrew Scott Merzwski, 29, who admitted to raping a resident of a Hermantown senior-living facility where he worked as a nursing assistant, was sentenced to more than four years in prison today.

By: Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune

A Duluth man who admitted to raping an 88-year-old resident of a Hermantown senior-living facility where he worked as a nursing assistant was sentenced to more than four years in prison today.

Andrew Scott Merzwski, 29, received a 53-month sentence from Judge Sally Tarnowski, per the terms of a plea agreement. He also will need to register as a predatory offender for 10 years and has been ordered to pay more than $1,000 in restitution to the victim.

The victim and her family were not present at the hearing, but Merzwski issued an apology, nonetheless, for his “egregious” offense.

“I beg their forgiveness and hope they view me as a troubled human being, and not as a monster,” he said. “I’ll spend the rest of my life thinking about this.”

Merzwski pleaded guilty Nov. 25 to third-degree criminal sexual conduct. The prosecution, in exchange, dropped a first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge.

The Duluth man admitted at that hearing that he engaged in sexual intercourse with the woman against her wishes on the night of Jan. 18, 2013.

Merzwski testified that the incident started when he brought medications to the woman, who resided in the independent-living section of the facility. He acknowledged that the woman was a vulnerable adult and that the medications cause some mental impairment.

The Duluth man testified that the resident invited him in to watch a movie in her bedroom. He said they talked for a few minutes before he initiated sexual intercourse.

The woman reported the incident to her daughter the next day and required medical care, according to the criminal complaint.

Merzwski initially told investigators that he did have sex with the woman, but claimed it was consensual and said that she, in fact, initiated the encounter, the complaint says.

Prosecutor Jessica Fralich noted at the November hearing that the victim was not pleased with the plea agreement. “I think if it were up to her, she would see this defendant locked away for the rest of his natural life,” she said.

But Merzwski lacks a criminal history, outside of a 2010 DWI conviction, and cooperated with law enforcement, Fralich said. And the sentence is just three months shy of the maximum guideline sentence, she said.

Edgewood Vista issued a statement to the News Tribune in response to a request to comment on the incident.

“Edgewood Vista Hermantown has fully cooperated with local and state authorities in their investigation of this matter. We respect the outcome of the judicial process and it is our hope that today’s sentencing will bring some closure,” Michael Johnson, the company’s vice president and senior nursing officer, said in the statement.

“The safety of our residents is of utmost importance, and we remain committed to our mission of providing quality resident services and maintaining a safe, homelike environment.”

Merzwski, Edgewood Vista and two of its top local administrators also are named in a civil suit filed by the woman, who is seeking punitive damages.

Defense attorney Andrew Poole asked Tarnowski not to impose any restitution as part of the sentence while the civil case is pending. The judge denied the request, ordering Merzwski to pay the victim $1,063.80, but told him he has 90 days to appeal that portion of the sentence.

Edgewood Management Group has headquarters in Grand Forks, N.D., operates 42 senior-living facilities in seven states and employs nearly 2,000 people, according to its website.

A search of the Minnesota Department of Health website does not list any resolved complaints against Edgewood Vista in relation to the incident.

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