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Judge tells fetishist ball's in his court: Reform or face civil commitment

DULUTH -- Christopher Neil Bjerkness is not a rapist, but a Duluth judge lectured him Wednesday that unless he stops carrying out a bizarre sexual fetish of slashing exercise balls with a knife, he could someday find himself facing an indetermina...

Neil Bjerkness

DULUTH -- Christopher Neil Bjerkness is not a rapist, but a Duluth judge lectured him Wednesday that unless he stops carrying out a bizarre sexual fetish of slashing exercise balls with a knife, he could someday find himself facing an indeterminate civil commitment as a sexual psychopath.

Bjerkness was sentenced in St. Louis County District Court to 21 months in prison, but as part of a plea agreement, the sentence was stayed for five years of supervised probation, which includes a one-year sentence at the Northeast Regional Corrections Center, where he will enter a sex offender treatment program.

At an Aug. 12 hearing, Bjerkness pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary. As part of a plea agreement reached with the St. Louis County Attorney's Office, a charge of second-degree burglary was dismissed.

He admitted breaking into the SMDC-Duluth Clinic West building on May 30 and slashing balls there.

Judge's warning

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Judge Mark Munger told the defendant Wednesday that his case was one of "the most bizarre" to ever come through the court. The judge said no one wanted to send him to prison at this time but that his behavior was a violation of privacy and his predilection for the fetish seemed to be escalating.

If he doesn't change his ways, the judge said, Bjerkness could wind up in prison and potentially face a civil commitment process.

Sexual psychopaths can be civilly committed after their prison sentences when the court determines they still pose a risk to the public. It can be a lifelong commitment.

Convict's story

In a July interview, Bjerkness told the News Tribune that he couldn't explain his fetish. He said he suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, bipolar depression and cerebral palsy. That information was later confirmed by his adoptive parents.

Bjerkness declined to comment when Munger asked him if he had anything he wanted to say before he was sentenced.

The defendant told Duluth police he slashed the rubber balls to satisfy a sexual urge. His fetish has led to other brushes with the law. He was convicted in 2005 of first-degree criminal damage to property after getting into the Sports and Health Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth on several occasions and damaging inflatable exercise balls.

Bjerkness said his fetish for exercise balls has nothing to do with the people who work or exercise at gyms and he doesn't believe he is a threat to anyone. He is unemployed, but said he has worked mowing lawns, as a dishwasher and as a telemarketer. He travels by bicycle.

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Probation rules

As conditions of his probation, Bjerkness was ordered to stay off the grounds of any SMDC facility, pay $494 restitution, complete sex offender treatment and follow any aftercare recommendations, undergo an updated psychological evaluation, take prescribed medication and not take any nonprescribed drugs, submit to testing to detect any alcohol or unauthorized drug use and submit to polygraph testing.

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