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Closner gets nearly 18 years for hammer attack

 In January, doctors said Daniel David Yennie would probably never walk or talk again.

But on Friday morning, the 21-year-old walked to the front of a courtroom in Goodhue County District Court just before his attacker, Jonathan Lee Closner, was sentenced to 212 months in prison. Yennie stood before Judge Larry Clark as his sister Nicole Yennie-Drake read a victim impact statement on his behalf.

"I shouldn't have to learn (how to walk and talk) again," the statement read. "I can't hold a conversation. I spend most of my time listening. But my will was not taken from me."

Yennie was severely injured at about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 14 after Closner, 26, entered his estranged wife's residence in Zumbrota. When he saw what he assumed was Yennie's baseball cap in the living room, Closner grabbed a hammer and proceeded to the bedroom. There he saw his wife and Yennie asleep in bed. Closner hit Yennie several times in the head with the tool.

Closner, of Zumbrota, pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted murder April 1. As a result, Clark formally dismissed six other charges, including two first-degree attempted murder charges and one first-degree assault charge.

The 212 month prison sentence had been outlined in a plea agreement negotiated by Assistant Goodhue County Attorney Chris Schrader and Closner's defense attorney John Gavin this spring. In sentencing, Clark followed the provisions of that agreement.

"In the eyes of the law, we are all responsible for the choices we make," Clark said, adding that Closner chose to "savagely attack" Yennie.

"A lot of consequences have followed for those choices," Clark said.

After the attack, Yennie was airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, where he was placed in a medically induced coma for four days. He stayed in the hospital for four months and was operated on three times. Schrader previously said that doctors removed a part of Yennie's brain and skull.

"My son's head was swollen two times the size of what it would normally be. His eyes were swollen shut," Christie Yennie said during in her victim impact statement read in court Friday.

She added that her son's right side was paralyzed, but that he's working to regain function. She also said his hearing and vision are impaired.

"I feel like Daniel has been sentenced for the rest of his life," Christie Yennie said. "Jonathan Closner will serve his time, but Daniel has to serve the rest of his life learning how to walk and talk again."

Closner will serve his time at Minnesota Correctional Facility-St. Cloud. As per Minnesota state statute, two-thirds will be served behind bars and the final third may be served on supervised release. He will receive credit for 180 days already served; he has been at Goodhue County Adult Detention Center since his arrest in January.

"I am truly sorry for everything," Closner said in court Friday. "I do regret doing this."

According to Minnesota sentencing guidelines, a second-degree attempted murder charge would typically carry a 136- to 196- month sentence. But Schrader said the longer sentence is necessary due to four aggravating factors: the crime's particular cruelty; the fact that Yennie was vulnerable because he was asleep at the time of the attack; the fact that Closner violated an order for protection that prohibited him from being at his wife's residence; and the fact that Yennie suffered severe personal injury.

"I'm relieved," Christie Yennie said outside the courtroom Friday. "I'm very relieved that it's over."

Her son currently spends three hours a day, three times a week in occupational, physical and speech therapy. She said her son is doing "extremely well," but that the next one to two years will be critical in determining his overall outcome.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.