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Duluth child care sex offender sentenced

A 70-year-old Duluth man was sentenced Wednesday to 12-years in prison for sexually assaulting a 7-year-old girl in the home where he and his wife ran a licensed child care.

Joseph Wesley Custard pleaded guilty in St. Louis County District Court in July to first-degree criminal sexual conduct for engaging in sexual penetration with a victim younger than 13. A count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct was dismissed.

Sixth Judicial District Judge Mark Munger ordered that Custard be placed on conditional release for 10 years after his sentence, that the defendant provide a DNA sample, and register as a predatory offender with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Duluth defense attorney Richard Holmstrom argued that his client should be placed on probation, spend a year in local confinement and receive treatment in a sexual offender program instead of going to prison.

Holmstrom apologized for his client. "I said that he apologized and there is no way he can take back what happened,'' Holmstrom said. "He was so overcome with emotion he couldn't even talk.''

Duluth police said Custard and his wife ran a licensed child care center in their home for many years and that the victim had been going to Custard's house at 1229 E. Sixth St. for four or five years.

Custard admitted to sexually assaulting the girl on July 23, 2006. The defendant's wife was not home when the assault took place and she was not charged with being a party to the crime. She was at an elderly neighbor's house, helping him receive his medication.

According to the criminal complaint, Custard -- who has a ninth-grade education -- admitted being attracted to children and indicated that he targeted children "because it's easy."

Investigator Bob Carter of the Duluth Family Crimes Unit developed the case after interviewing the victim.