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Grand Forks man sentenced in assault on friend's wife

A Grand Forks man who said "love took over," when he sexually assaulted a sleeping friend in May was sentenced Wednesday to serve four years in prison, plus 10 years supervised probation afterward and to register as a sex offender.

Joseph Lee Tilbury

A Grand Forks man who said "love took over," when he sexually assaulted a sleeping friend in May was sentenced Wednesday to serve four years in prison, plus 10 years supervised probation afterward and to register as a sex offender.

Joseph Tilbury, 27, put his head down as a prosecutor read aloud text messages he sent and received from his victim just after the assault. State District Judge Debbie Kleven said she wanted to hear the phone messages before deciding to accept Tilbury's guilty plea.

Kleven took pains in asking Tilbury if he realized his guilty plea to the Class A felony count of gross sexual imposition on a person unaware of the assault could mean a lifetime of living as a registered sex offender. The maximum prison sentence on the charge is 20 years.

Kleven told Tilbury his comments to investigators seemed to indicate he thought the woman was awake and OK with his molestation of her with his hand on the couch in her home.

"This is a lifetime of repercussions," that can cause "difficulties the rest of your life in finding a place to live, in finding a job," Kleven told him, describing a case "on my desk" of a man convicted of a similar crime 14 years ago now being arrested in Texas because of his lifetime sex offender status.

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"This is not anything that goes away in three years ... so you have to be sure that you are admitting to this. If not ... you need to exercise your right to a jury trial."

Plea deal

Tilbury, who was staying with the woman and her husband who were his friends, said he now accepts his victim's statement that she was unconscious at the time. But he said it seemed like the prosecution's use of text messages between the two was biased against him.

So Kleven asked prosecutor Justin Breitweiser to read several of the text messages between the two after Tilbury had molested the woman with his hand.

"I'm so sorry, I have no idea what happened. Just kill me now," Tilbury wrote in one message.

He asked her to forgive him and said he realized he loved her and "love took over" on her couch.

The woman kicked Tilbury out of her home and told her husband.

After several minutes of messages exchanged over several days, often containing racy language, Kleven waved it off: "That's enough."

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It seems clear that at the time Tilbury and the victim agreed she was unaware of his sexual assault, Kleven told Tilbury.

"It doesn't sound like she wanted this at all, from those text messages," Kleven told Tilbury and said she would accept his guilty plea.

She sentenced him to 10 years in prison, with six years suspended and credit for 119 days he's served in the Grand Forks County jail since his arrest, plus 10 years probation, per the plea deal.

Call Lee at (701) 780-1237, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1237 or send email to slee@gfherald.com .

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