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Judge rejects plea deal in Lawson case

Johnny Lawson

FESSENDEN, N.D. - A Southeast District Court judge rejected a plea agreement for former Wells County Sheriff Johnny Lawson Thursday, who is accused of accepting and consuming illegal drugs and not performing his duties as a public official.

Judge Daniel Narum rejected the agreement reached between the Wells County State’s Attorney’s Office and Lawson that would have had Lawson pleading guilty to a Class A misdemeanor in exchange for testifying against Alexander Lail.

Narum said in considering the plea agreement, the fact that Lawson was a public official for Wells County at the time he allegedly committed the crimes and the charges directly related to his service as a public official gave him pause about accepting the agreement.

“I think the plea agreement is inappropriate and doesn’t serve justice,” he said. “At this point, I will reject the plea agreement.”

Lawson, 41, Fessenden, is charged with conspiracy to deliver a controlled substance, methamphetamine, a Class A felony, and bribery-unlawful influence of public servants, a Class C felony. He is also charged with three Class A misdemeanors: false reports to law enforcement or other security officials, public servant refusing to perform duty and ingesting a controlled substance, methamphetamine.

Jeremy Ensrud, an attorney with the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office acting as a special attorney on behalf of Wells County State’s Attorney Kathleen Murray in this case, and Peter Welte, Lawson’s attorney, had worked out the agreement in which Lawson agreed to plead guilty to ingesting a controlled substance, methamphetamine. In exchange for the guilty plea, Ensrud was going to drop the four other charges. Lawson would also have to testify against Alexander Lail, who is facing multiple felony drug charges in a related case.

Before he resigned as Wells County sheriff on April 25, Lawson allegedly consumed methamphetamine provided by Lail, 47, of New Rockford, according to court documents. Lawson allegedly received the drug in exchange for not investigating burglaries and break-ins of residences around Wells County that may have been done by Lail or some of his associates.

The next step for Lawson will be a preliminary hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Chris Olson

Hometown: Traverse City, MI College: Northwestern Michigan College and Michigan State University

(701) 952-8454