Twin Cities family relieved after man pleads guilty to sexual assault 16 years later

A Twin Cities family is sharing their heartache, grief and relief sixteen years after their loved one was violently assaulted at gunpoint now that her attacker has pleaded guilty.

"She's just a brave, brave woman," said Sheila Biernat about her victim-survivor family member. "And I wish she could be doing this speaking, but since she can't, I am happy to be here for her."

Biernat sat down for an interview with FOX 9’s Paul Blume a day after Robert Allen Delong pleaded guilty to armed first-degree criminal sexual conduct charges in the March 2007 gunpoint assault in Minneapolis’ Boom Island Park.

"I just want to make sure she is represented and that we can bring some justice to this," said Biernat.

FOX 9 is not publicly identifying Biernat’s relative. Months after the assault, the woman suffered a life-altering traumatic brain injury requiring constant care and is not able to share her story for herself.

"We have all struggled with it through all these many years," said Biernat.

Biernat and Blume sat down for the interview at the Memorial for Victims of Sexual Violence in Boom Island Park. The memorial was installed in 2020, not far from where Biernat’s loved one was assaulted along the Mississippi River. Biernat lives in a nearby neighborhood, so the park and memorial carry extra significance in her life.

"I mean, I can remember, like yesterday, a couple of people from here, Boom Island bringing her to my door," recalled Biernat. "And it was the nicest, it was the first nice spring day. She was just going out for a jog. She wanted to do a run before she went to her best friend's birthday party. And life changed. And she came, and she was disheveled and distraught, and she tried so hard to fight back tears and be brave."

After the attack, the woman rushed to Biernat’s house, somehow having the wherewithal to preserve DNA evidence that would eventually result in charges against Delong. Biernat was prepared to testify at Delong’s trial this week. But on Tuesday, Delong admitted to the gunpoint assault and pled guilty.

"When it happens in your neighborhood, you look at everyone askance. You look at everything. You don't trust anything anymore," explained Biernat.

One aspect of the memorial that so touches Biernat is the broken ceramic mosaic artwork she believes depicts all the shattered lives of sexual violence. Just months after the assault, Biernat’s family member suffered a devastating injury in a horrific car crash, out of state.

Biernat plans to give a victim impact statement in court at Delong’s sentencing on Aug. 10 where a legal fight is developing over how much prison time the now 63-year-old should receive for the trauma he has inflicted upon the woman and her loved ones over the years.

"It needs to be a long, long time. And the thing most concerning is we never want him to be out ever, ever to be able to do this to anyone again. I mean, no woman. This is a woman's worst nightmare, and we just don't want him to ever be out because he could do this again," said Biernat.