Testimony begins: Defense: Howard has some responsibility but didn’t commit murderSteve Mottinger, court-appointed defense attorney for Leron Lee Howard, 34, of Jamestown, said his client bears some blame in the April 30, 2011, death of Abdi Ali Ahmed.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
Steve Mottinger, court-appointed defense attorney for Leron Lee Howard, 34, of Jamestown, said his client bears some blame in the April 30, 2011, death of Abdi Ali Ahmed.
“Leron Howard will take responsibility for his actions but not for the actions of others,” he said. “He is charged with murder and conspiracy but the evidence will show he is not guilty of those crimes.”
The statement came as part of opening arguments Wednesday in Southeast District Court here.
Ahmed’s body was found in a road ditch near Spiritwood. An autopsy determined he had died of blunt force head trauma but had also received stab wounds to the abdomen.
Janelle Cave, 22, Jamestown, was also charged with murder and criminal conspiracy in the case. She has appealed her February convictions for manslaughter and criminal conspiracy. She is currently serving an 11-year sentence.
Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney, used his opening statement to review the case and people involved.
“Leron Howard and Janelle Cave beat and stabbed Abdi Ali Ahmed and left him for dead on the side of the road,” he said.
Mottinger said Howard will testify on his own behalf and will tell his side of the events leading to Ahmed’s death.
“He will tell you that he punched Abdi in the head and hit him again,” he said. “He will tell you what happened and more importantly what didn’t happen.”
Mottinger said he was taking a risk in his approach to defending his client.
“He admits he committed a major crime but there was no intent to kill this young man,” he said. “At the end of the day we will ask you to return a verdict of guilty of manslaughter.”
Manslaughter is causing the death of an individual by a negligent act.
The murder and criminal conspiracy charges are Class AA felonies punishable by life in prison without parole. Manslaughter is a Class B felony punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Fremgen said the evidence would place Cave and Howard with Ahmed before and after the crime and that they disposed of evidence.
The opening statements followed the completion of jury selection. A panel of nine women and five men was seated with two members serving as alternates.
Fremgen called five witnesses Wednesday afternoon establishing the movements of the victim the night of the crime and the initial investigation by local officers.
Sheldon Oviatt, owner of the Corner Bar, established that Howard and Ahmed were present in the bar the night of the murder. He identified the pair moving through the crowd on surveillance videos from the bar leaving together at about 12:15 a.m. on April 30, 2011.
Ahmed Ahmed, a friend of the victim, testified he saw Abdi Ahmed at the Corner Bar with Howard. He declined to view and identify the body based on autopsy photographs.
“I don’t want any more sleepless nights,” he said.
Nicole Ahlers, former Jamestown College student, testified that she met Abdi Ahmed, Cave and Howard at a house party near Jamestown College in the early morning hours of April 30, 2012. She testified that the three tried to convince her to go home with them as the party was winding down. She did not.
Roger Reed, construction manager for Wanzek Construction, testified that he found the body in a road ditch near Spiritwood and notified authorities. Reed was the construction manager for the Spiritwood Station generating plant under construction at the time. He left the job site at about noon that day and discovered the body shortly thereafter.
The final witness of the day was Jason Falk, deputy with the Stutsman County Sheriff’s Office. Falk testified to blood spot and footprint evidence found at the location where the body was discovered. His testimony is scheduled to continue today.
The trial is expected to last until about Aug. 23. Judge Thomas Merrick is presiding.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at email@example.com