GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- After more than six hours of deliberation across two days, a jury has found Steven Donald Aune guilty of manslaughter. A date for his sentencing has not yet been set, and he faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Walsh County State’s Attorney Kelley Cole argued that Aune intentionally shot his daughter, Stephanie Aune, 36, during an argument over a family of pet rats she had brought back to the residence.

But Aune’s defense attorney, Steven Mottinger, said the evidence did not support that the shooting was an intentional act.

“Use your common sense,” Mottinger told the jury. “If you’re going to shoot someone, are you going to shoot from down here? Or are you going to pick that gun up, shoulder it, and shoot? That’s an intentional act.”

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

In his closing statement to the jury Jan. 16, he argued that the only reason to find Aune guilty of murder was if the jury believed he acted intentionally, or if they believed he acted with extreme indifference to human life -- for example, Mottinger said, if he pointed the gun at his daughter to scare her and accidentally discharged it or shot her with intent to wound but not kill her.

But Aune did neither of those things, Mottinger continued. Aune testified Thursday, Jan. 16, that, when he was arguing with his daughter, she was sitting on her mattress in her room and he was standing about 10 feet away in the hall. He held the rifle in his hands, unaware the gun was loaded and said he believed it was possible the weapon discharged when he gestured with it.

The bullet struck Stephanie Aune’s abdominal area, and she died at the hospital later that morning.

The guilty verdict for the manslaughter charge means the jury determined it was recklessness that killed Stephanie.

A pre-sentence investigation is slated to be completed by the end of March, at which time a date for Aune’s sentencing will be decided.