For years, the families of Darrell Rea's victims wondered if the man who police say raped and strangled several women across Minneapolis in the 1980s would ever be punished for his alleged crimes.
On Tuesday, they got their answer, which they called "ridiculous" for its brevity.
Rea, 64, who was found guilty of second-degree murder last month in the previously unsolved slaying of teenager Lorri Mesedahl, was sentenced to just over 10 years in prison for the murder. Prosecutors say Rea bludgeoned Mesedahl to death with an unknown object, likely after picking the teenager up hitchhiking late on a chilly spring night in 1983.
Police have long suspected Rea in a number of other unsolved cases, ranging from rape to murder, several of which involved young women who were picked up on the street and physically and sexually assaulted.
Several family members of those victims, most of whom remain unnamed in official court documents because Rea was never charged in those crimes, were at Tuesday's hearing. A few filed victim-impact statements with Hennepin County District Judge Tamara Garcia but declined to address the court.
The only person to speak Tuesday was Mesedahl's stepbrother, Del Young, who in emotional testimony said that he found it unconscionable that someone convicted of killing another person would serve such a short sentence, based on 1980s-era sentencing guidelines.
"It's horrifying that one man could carry so much evil inside — we are truly looking at the devil himself," Young said.
"Darrell, you have to know this is absolutely ridiculous," he said. "Darrell, you won the game."
He added that he felt bad for Rea's other alleged victims and their relatives who may never get justice of their own. As he spoke, people in the gallery sniffled and dabbed at their eyes.
Wearing a button-down shirt and khakis, Rea stared ahead passively throughout the half-hour hearing.
Garcia, who presided over the case after Rea waived a jury trial, said that she imposed the maximum sentence allowed under the sentencing guidelines from the year when the crime occurred.
"She will never turn 18, she will never have a family of her own," Garcia said. "May Lorri remain forever young, happy and beautiful in the hearts of those who love her."
Rea, who will get credit for serving 657 days in prison, could be eligible for early release after serving two-thirds of his sentence.
When it was his turn to address the court, Rea declined.
"I don't think it will change anything, so no I don't have nothing to say," he told Garcia. He did not offer an apology.
A pair of sheriff's deputies led him out of the courtroom shortly after his sentence was read. His public defender told the court that his client continued to maintain his innocence.
On the morning of April 2, 1983, a railroad crew found Mesedahl's body lying next to the Soo Line Railroad tracks near N. 2nd Street and 30th Avenue. An autopsy later revealed that she may have also been strangled but likely died from the multiple blows to her head.
With little to go on, the trail went cold until 1993, when DNA evidence linked Rea to a rape that occurred five years before, in which a woman working as a sex worker was picked up in a car in north Minneapolis, strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted before she escaped.
Rea may have been caught sooner, but investigators at the time didn't enter his DNA into state and national databases because he was never convicted of a crime.
The next big break came in 2013, when cold case investigators retested genetic material from the crime scene and determined it was Rea's by checking it against a state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension database.
Investigators went on to interview a number of Rea's friends and acquaintances, including his then-roommate, who told police that Rea would sometimes talk about pulling off the perfect murder, which involved "cutting someone up and either placing them in the river or burying them in concrete," according to court filings.
Rea was the subject of a lengthy Mother Jones profile earlier this week, which detailed other allegations of sexual assault against him.
Minneapolis police Sgt. Chris Karakostas, who cracked open the case along with FBI special agent Christopher Boeckers, said he hoped Tuesday's sentence would bring Rea's other alleged victims some semblance of closure — even if they knew he may never be charged, because the statute of limitations had expired in most of the cases that involved alleged sexual assault.
"Ironically, the other people that were attacked by Darrell Rea participated in this case," he said after the hearing. "If the statute of limitations allowed us to, we would charge him [with those attacks]."
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 • @StribJany