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Jury selection begins for trial in brutal southwest ND hotel killing

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Madison West2 / 3
Chase Swanson3 / 3

DICKINSON, N.D.—Jury selection began Monday, Feb. 12 for the felony trial of two individuals who were allegedly involved in the brutal death of a Rhame man at a motel in Bowman in 2016.

Madison Beth West, 27 of Dickinson, and Chase Duane Swanson, 23 of Bowman, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, a Class AA felony. A Class AA felony faces a maximum of life in prison without parole.

The charges stem from the death of Nicholas Johnson, a 23-year-old Rhame man, who was found dead in a room at the El-Vu motel in Bowman on Aug. 20, 2016.

West and Swanson have also been charged with theft of property and Swanson is charged with felon in possession of a firearm, both are Class C felonies. West was also previously charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm, however, that charge was dismissed during a preliminary hearing last year.

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The case was originally set to be in Bowman County but a change of venue was granted by Southwest District Judge James Gion in December, moving the case to Dickinson. The order signed by Gion stated that the reason for moving the trial was "due to the size limitations of the courtroom in Bowman County and the fact that the jury questionnaire (indicated) that 46 percent of jurors could have been struck for cause."

At at a preliminary hearing in February 2017, North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations Special Agent Timothy Helmer testified that when he arrived on the scene Aug. 20, 2016, there was a body lying face down in a large pool of blood in the motel room. Johnson appeared to have a belt wrapped around his neck and an injury to the back of his head, according to Helmer's testimony.

According to Helmer's testimony, the two, along with another man named Todd Pashano, who has been charged with Class C felony hindering law enforcement, were eventually apprehended in Denver, Colo. days later. Pashano's trial is scheduled for the end of May, according to current court filings.

Jury selection took up much of the day Monday and will continue on Tuesday with about half of the pool of jurors being interviewed Monday and another half to be interviewed on Tuesday.

Monday potential jurors were asked various questions, including if they knew anyone involved with the case, by Kevin McCabe, attorney for West, Thomas Murtha, attorney for Swanson, and Stephanie Pretzer, state's attorney for Bowman County. They were also asked if they had ever been in an emotional and potentially life threatening incident. Three jurors raised their hands, including one who said it would be difficult for them to separate the emotions of the case from the proceedings. The individual was dismissed from their duty.

The case is set to run for a total of eight days until Feb. 22.

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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