- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - A convicted felon who broke out of North Dakota jails twice was sentenced Monday to 16 years in federal prison, a punishment far more harsh than what prosecutors were seeking for his initial arrest on a gun charge.

Wesley Brown III, 36, pleaded guilty earlier to four charges, including two counts of escape. Authorities say he scaled a fence to briefly escape from a Rugby jail in June 2013 and enlisted the help of the prison guard to get out of a Devils Lake jail in March 2015.

Defense attorneys said in court documents that Brown, of Watford City, felt his Fourth of July 2012 arrest for being a felon in possession of a firearm was unfair and that led him to make a series of bad decisions “out of panic and desperation.” Brown said the weapons were owned by his wife and he never fired them.

Brown was being held on the gun charge but hadn’t yet been sentenced when he escaped for the first time.

Neil Fulton, head of the federal public defender’s office for the Dakotas, said after sentencing that the case involved several complicated issues.

“We will discuss the impact of the sentence with him and move forward from there,” Fulton said.

U.S. Attorney Chris Myers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brown’s 2015 escape from the Lake Region Correctional Center in Devils Lake ended 1,700 miles away in Oregon when police tracked down a vehicle with North Dakota plates that was owned by jailer Rachel Chapulis. Authorities say Chapulis masterminded the escape and provided clothes, a fake ID and money for Brown.

Chapulis was sentenced last year to more than three years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson called the original firearms violation “a sad thing” and said his “heart goes out” to Brown because it’s difficult for his family.

“The real problem in this case is the subsequent escapes, obviously,” Erickson said. “That’s how we end up where we are.”

Brown, who also pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and the illegal weapons charge, told the judge he feels badly that he won’t be able to provide for his family.

“All I wanted to do was make a better life for my family,” he said, sobbing. “I’m sorry.”

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