Air Force veteran sentenced to 13 1/2 to 27 years for kidnapping, threatening to kill pair in 2020

Courtroom and gavel. (Joe Gratz/Flickr)
January 16, 2022

A 25-year-old Millcreek Township man told an Erie County judge on Wednesday that his intention on the evening of Sept. 24, 2020, when he kidnapped a former girlfriend and another man in Erie and forced them at gunpoint to drive to a camp in Crawford County, was to end his own life “by any means.”

Minutes later, in the same courtroom, the man who was kidnapped told the judge that he believed the defendant, Brandon C. Auen, was going to kill him and the woman before the man intentionally crashed the car Auen was forcing him to drive.

The car crashed in Sparta Township early on the morning of Sept. 25. After Auen had called family members to tell them what was happening, Pennsylvania State Police troopers arrested Auen a short time later. He was charged with a long list of offenses that included two counts of attempted homicide, and he was jailed on $250,000 bond.

Auen, 25, who has been in the Erie County Prison since his arrest, was sentenced by Erie County Judge David Ridge on Wednesday to 13½ to 27 years in state prison on his guilty pleas in late October to two first-degree felony counts of kidnapping and one first-degree felony count each of burglary and aggravated assault.

Ridge sentenced Auen in the lower end of the standard range. Assistant District Attorney Gregory Reichart had asked Ridge to sentence Auen in the aggravated range.

State police accused Auen of breaking into a residence on Auburn Street in Erie on Sept. 24, 2020, and confronting a woman he used to date and a man she was with. Investigators wrote in Auen’s criminal complaint that he beat the woman with the gun and with his fists and forced her to undress at gunpoint.

MIllcreek man charged in kidnapping case: Police: Millcreek man kidnapped, planned to kill pair

State police said Auen then made the woman get dressed before he forced the two victims to get into the male victim’s vehicle, and he held the gun at the back of the man’s head as he forced him to drive.

The victims told investigators that Auen told them he was taking them to his camp near Spartansburg, where he planned to kill them. The male victim crashed the car into a guide rail as they approached Spartansburg, according to information in the complaint.

A ‘complete break’

Auen on Wednesday called his actions that September evening a “complete break” as he asked for leniency while addressing Ridge on Wednesday.

His lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, said the actions of Auen that day “truly does not reflect the character of the person.” Auen’s father talked in court about his son’s graduation from Mercyhurst University, his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force and his deployment in Kuwait, and how Auen had changed after returning from the deployment.

Sandmeyer, who served in the U.S. Army during the Persian Gulf War and the Iraq War, said he understood how a military deployment can change a person. He said Auen came home a different individual, someone who “was at the breaking point.”

“Really, everything imploded for Brandon on that day,” Sandmeyer said.

Auen’s actions really damaged his life, Sandmeyer added, but he has said that Auen said he is going to move forward.

Reichart told Ridge that while Auen said it was not his intention to hurt the two victims that day, he questioned what the gun was for and why Auen committed the other violent acts, including assaulting the woman and forcing her to undress.

Ridge said of the undressing that it was not enough that Auen assaulted the woman, “but you had to humiliate her too.”

“That was sadistic. I don’t know any other way to put it,” the judge said.

Ridge said he could not comprehend the decision the male victim had to make that morning, in choosing to crash the car and possibly kill himself and the other victim instead of continuing to the camp and likely being killed by Auen.

Ridge also told Auen that he did not think Auen fully comprehends the “depth of harm you caused here.”

“This was planned, and you had so many opportunities during this horrendous event to shut it down,” Ridge said.


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