No verdict yet in murder trialDEVILS LAKE — Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers matter-of-factly asked a jury here Wednesday to return a guilty verdict against Aron Nichols and Tamara Sorenson for “snuffing out” Donald and Alice Willey.
By: Brittany Lawonn, The Forum
DEVILS LAKE — Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers matter-of-factly asked a jury here Wednesday to return a guilty verdict against Aron Nichols and Tamara Sorenson for “snuffing out” Donald and Alice Willey.
“Don’t show any sympathy, don’t show any emotion” toward them, Byers said in his closing statements before the jury began deliberating just after 3 p.m. Deliberations lasted for about two hours before the judge sent jurors home for the day. Deliberations will continue today.
Nichols is accused of shooting the Willeys April 6, 2007, after conspiring with his fiancée, Sorenson, who is charged as being his accomplice. They are both from Fargo.
Sorenson was embroiled in a bitter visitation battle with the Willeys over her 8-year-old daughter, who she had with their late son.
A psychologist testified during the trial for Nichols’ defense that he was suffering from a diminished capacity that would prohibit him from forming the required legal intent to commit murder. A state psychologist testifying for the prosecution agreed Nichols suffers from a mental illness, but said that did not impact his ability to understand his actions.
Nichols’ attorney argued Wednesday his client’s own confession letter has so many inconsistencies compared to other evidence that it shows the Fargo man could not recall what actually happened when Donald and Alice Willey died.
“A mentally ill person cannot form the required legal intent,” Bob Martin said during his closing arguments. “The state of mind is not there.”
But Martin appeared to help the prosecution’s case against Sorenson when he told the jury Sorenson had tied enough strings to Nichols “that he was a puppet.”
Sorenson’s attorney David Ogren agreed that there was a serious breakdown in family relations between Sorenson and the Willeys, but argued “that is not unlawful.”
Ogren argued “it is well established” that Nichols killed the Willeys, but said the state’s evidence doesn’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his client helped.
Prosecutors contend Sorenson helped before, during and after the Willeys were killed, saying she told Nichols to get rid of the .45-caliber handgun he shot them with. She also talked to him before and right after he set fire to the Willeys’ house. Wells County State’s Attorney Kathleen Trosen cited cell phone records that show Nichols was using a cell tower near the couple’s rural Sykeston home when he called Sorenson at 11:41 p.m. Alice Willey’s watch stopped at 11:30 p.m. and an investigator testified it stopped because of the heat of the house fire.
But Ogren contended there is no way to know what the Fargo couple talked about, saying the cell phone records only establish that Nichols was by the Willey residence.
Byers argued it’s more than a coincidence that Sorenson allowed the Willeys to speak to her daughter on the phone that same night, saying the prosecution believes the call took place to establish that the Willeys were home where Nichols was waiting for them.
Nichols and Sorenson face up to life in prison without parole if convicted of the Class AA felony charges. Nichols faces two counts of murder and Sorenson faces two counts of being an accomplice to murder.
If the jury finds that Nichols is guilty but also finds he was suffering from an extreme emotional disturbance at the time of the murders that reduces the maximum sentence the judge can impose to 20 years in prison.
Jurors heard 83 witnesses testify over a 10-day span, including several family members from Sorenson, Nichols and the Willeys. Nichols and Sorenson did not testify.
The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co,