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Judge sentences Axelson to prison

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

STOCKTON -- Former Rooks County Sheriff Randy Axelson was sentenced Tuesday to 49 months in prison on four counts of distribution of methamphetamine.

The sentence handed down by District Judge Ed Bouker was something of a nod to the litany of personal and professional woes detailed by defense attorney Kurt Kerns, even though he earlier had turned aside a request to depart from the state's sentencing guidelines.

Ellis County Attorney Tom Drees, acting as a special prosecutor in the Rooks County case, had asked Bouker to sentence Axelson to 64 months in prison -- stacking the two classes of charges to run consecutively.

Bouker instead ordered all four charges to run concurrently with the first charge, which carried the 49-month sentence.

"If this would have been anyone else," Bouker said of Axelson's position as sheriff, "he likely would have gotten probation."

After talking briefly with Kerns and then hugging his sobbing wife, Carol, Axelson was led from the courtroom by waiting officers.

"Sad day for everyone," Kerns said after Axelson was taken to jail. He said an appeal was "unlikely."

After a series of witnesses testified, Axelson addressed the court.

"I'd just like to apologize to everyone," Axelson said, his voice cracking with emotion, "to all my fellow law enforcement officers.

"There is not a single bad officer in this room," he continued, "with the exception of me."

Security for the hearing was uncommonly tight, with as many as 10 law enforcement officers on hand and visitors being required to pass through a metal detector before entering the courtroom.

Axelson, 44, pleaded guilty in July to four felony drug charges, two counts of distribution of methamphetamine within 1,000 feet of school property and two counts of distribution of methamphetamine.

He was arrested in December 2011, originally charged with nine counts of felony methamphetamine distribution.

During Tuesday's three-hour hearing, Kerns tried to convince Bouker to grant his motion to depart from the state's sentencing guidelines "because of extraordinary family circumstances."

At the outset of the hearing, Kerns presented a 15-minute video detailing those circumstances, including the stress of the job, a deteriorating marriage and a severely handicapped 19-year-old daughter who requires constant care.

On the flip side, however, Drees presented a series of witnesses -- most of them fellow law enforcement officers -- who outlined either the circumstances surrounding the events leading up to the charges or the fallout from the community, specifically the loss of trust.

In the video, Axelson detailed circumstances leading up to his arrest.

"I really didn't enjoy being sheriff," he said, an outgrowth of the responsibilities he faced through supervising deputies and dispatchers.

He also suffered stress, especially after an inmate hanged himself.

His wife, Carol, made an emotional plea for Bouker to put her husband on probation, largely because he is needed to help care for their daughter.

"It's hard for me to have a job," she said, after saying she's had as many as 10 assistants who quit because the strain simply was too much.

Axelson, seated next to Kerns, struggled to maintain his composure, wiping away tears as his wife testified.

Carol Axelson also told of how difficult it's been for her, including a time when she contemplated suicide.

She also said when he received the call detailing the arrest of the women to whom he was supplying drugs, there was a sigh of relief.

"It was over," she said. "He could move on."

Officers called to testify all recommended against probation, saying Axelson should spend time in prison.

Lead investigator Mark Kendrick, a KBI special agent, detailed the events leading up to Axelson's arrest. He said the methamphetamine came from Axelson's evidence locker, some of which he gave to a Stockton woman, who already has been sentenced to probation.

The charges Axelson pleaded guilty to involved 38.5 grams of methamphetamine -- slightly less than 1.5 ounces.