Man gets time served for 22-hour manhuntA sex offender who fled a private prison transport van and led authorities on a 22-hour manhunt last fall in a Barnes County cornfield pleaded guilty to a felony escape charge Wednesday.
VALLEY CITY, N.D. — A sex offender who fled a private prison transport van and led authorities on a 22-hour manhunt last fall in a Barnes County cornfield pleaded guilty to a felony escape charge Wednesday.
Joseph Matthew Megna, 30, who was being extradited from Florida to the state of Washington on Oct. 4 when he escaped the van and sparked a search that cost more than $91,000, was sentenced in Barnes County District Court to the three months in jail he’s already served.
He’ll again be extradited to Franklin County, Wash., where he faces a first-degree charge of child molestation for allegedly fondling a boy under the age of 12. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.
After being arrested mid-afternoon on Oct. 5, Megna claimed he escaped when the van stopped at an Interstate 94 rest stop because he hadn’t been properly fed in the trip from Florida. He reiterated that claim Wednesday morning, looking around and saying no one else in the courtroom would have acted any differently.
“I was treated basically like an animal,” he said.
Megna apologized to the people of Barnes County, whom he called “very nice people,” and said he didn’t mean to cause problems.
“It was stupid and wrong, but under the circumstances, I felt it was the thing to do at the time,” he said.
Barnes County State’s Attorney Lee Grossman acknowledged that the sentence was lenient when considering Megna’s criminal record and the manhunt. But, given that keeping Megna here would have meant time in prison, it was the appropriate sentence to get him out of Barnes County and on the road to Washington where he faces a far more serious charge, Grossman said.
“This is small potatoes compared to that,” he said.
Meanwhile, authorities —and farmers who harvested part of the cornfield to try to flush out Megna — are still waiting for the insurer of the transport company, Extradition Transport of America LLC, to reimburse them for the manhunt.
Chief Deputy Don Fiebiger said a Texas firm is handling the claim.
“Their holdup has been getting information from actually the transport company,” he said. “So it’s been three months and we haven’t got any checks from them or anything.”
Fiebiger said the U.S. Attorney’s office also is looking into whether the transport company should pay a civil penalty of $10,000 for violating the Interstate Transportation of Dangerous Criminals Act, also known as Jeanna’s Act in reference to 11-year-old Jeanna North of Fargo, who was murdered in 1993 by escapee Kyle Bell.
Franklin County plans to use a different transport company to move Megna this time, Fiebiger said.
Mike Nowatzki is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.