DULUTH -- A Brevator Township woman was sentenced Monday, Oct. 25, for harboring her fugitive son after he allegedly shot and killed his friend on the Fond du Lac Reservation last winter.

Little Fawn Fohrenkam, 39, received three years of supervised probation after pleading guilty in August to a felony count of aiding an offender to avoid arrest.

Authorities said the defendant drove her son, Joseph James Fohrenkam, then 18, across the state and concealed him for several days after he fatally shot the victim, 16-year-old Joseph James Peterson, while showing off a gun inside a car Dec. 28.

Little Fawn Fohrenkam
Little Fawn Fohrenkam

The mother and son were said to have shaved their heads and ditched their car before being located by authorities in an apartment near White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen County, where Little Fawn Fohrenkam gave a false name and Joseph Fohrenkam was found hiding in a couch.

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"I'm really sorry for the actions I have taken," the mother said Monday. "I just wasn't thinking right at the time. I'm working really hard to rehabilitate myself. I'm really sorry to the victim's family for their loss, and I'd like to share my condolences with them."

A Peterson family member who attended the Zoom hearing declined to address the court prior to sentencing.

Judge Eric Hylden stayed a prison term of one year and one day in favor of the probationary sentence that includes a number of conditions related to chemical dependency.

Fohrenkam, upon her arrest in January, served six days in jail before she was released under pretrial supervision. In seeking "more of a consequence," St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme requested that she be required to spend 30 days in the Female Offender Program.

But public defender J.D. Schmid told the court that his client has already completed one intensive inpatient treatment program and is beginning another at a halfway house in Mora, Minnesota. He said Fohrenkam has "really taken the initiative to get her sobriety in place and is doing the things that probation is going to require of her."

In declining to impose additional incarceration, Hylden told the defendant: "I think we can be best served if you really commit to that sobriety."

Judge weighs bid to drop murder charge

Meanwhile, Hylden is currently considering a motion to dismiss the more serious of two homicide charges against Joseph Fohrenkam.

Prosecutors initially charged him with second-degree manslaughter but later added a count of third-degree murder. It could make for a significant difference if he is convicted, as the presumptive prison term would triple from four years to 12 ½ years under state guidelines.

Joseph James Fohrenkam
Joseph James Fohrenkam

Defense attorney William Gatton argued in a brief earlier this month that "the available evidence suggests that the defendant did not believe the gun was loaded" when he shot Peterson.

Gatton largely agreed with the factual basis previously presented by authorities: that five young men were drinking heavily inside a pickup truck when Fohrenkam inadvertently shot Peterson while showing off a handgun. The attorney described them as "close friends" and said there was no evidence of any kind of dispute.

Two of witnesses said they did not actually see the shooting occur, according to court documents, while the third told investigators he believed Fohrenkam may have accidentally bumped the center console while putting the gun away, causing it to fire.

"In the present case, the record does establish that the defendant did cause the death of Joseph Peterson, and that he did so by committing an act that was eminently dangerous to others," Gatton acknowledged, citing legal elements of the charge. "However, the record in this case does not support a conclusion that the defendant was indifferent to the loss of life that his eminently dangerous act could cause."

Stumme, however, pointed to a witness statement that Fohrenkam had removed the clip and taken a bullet out of the head of the gun moments before the shooting. Therefore, the prosecutor said, there is "compelling evidence" that Fohrenkam must have reloaded the gun and been aware that it could fire.

Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

"A jury could reasonably conclude that Fohrenkam was fully aware of the danger of drunkenly pointing a loaded firearm at another person," Stumme wrote. "A jury could reasonably conclude that Fohrenkam was indifferent to the risk of death posed by his actions when he reloaded the pistol before pointing it at Peterson. And ... a jury could reasonably conclude that Fohrenkam is guilty of third-degree depraved mind murder."

Hylden is expected to issue a written ruling on the motion. Fohrenkam remains jailed with no future court dates set.

Trae Dillon Shabaiash, 26, one of the witnesses to the shooting, also faces a felony count of aiding an offender for allegedly hiding Fohrenkam's pistol in the woods. His next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 5.