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Testimony continues in Nichols-Sorenson trial

DEVILS LAKE -- A Fargo woman testified that her husband and murder suspect Aron Nichols discussed three scenarios to kill a man, including "pouring gasoline over the guy and gassing the house."

Nichols also told Melisa McLawhorn's husband, Scott McLawhorn, that "if you get things hot enough, you can cover up evidence pretty well," Scott McLawhorn testified Thursday on the third day of Nichols' and his fiancée Tamara Sorenson's double murder trial.

Nichols, of Fargo, is accused of shooting Donald and Alice Willey in their rural Sykeston home last April and then setting the residence on fire after scheming with Sorenson because she didn't want her daughter's paternal grandparents to have visitation.

Two of Nichols' former co-workers testified Thursday that Nichols said he would not allow the Willeys to have visitation with the girl, stating he might not be back at work, which they took to mean he'd be going to jail.

Eric Pedersen testified that at one point Nichols told him "he was going to go on a manhunt," and "he was going to get rid of these people," refer-ring to the grandparents. Pedersen said Nichols made such statements two or three times, including once in August 2006 when he was dressed in full military fatigues tucked into his shiny black boots.

A retired Fargo police officer testified that the same month he noticed Nichols watching him and the Willeys when the officer tried to get Sorenson to answer the door to abide by a default court order for visitation.

John Retterath testified that Nichols, who was in a truck about a block away, made him and another officer nervous so they went up to him and asked if he would help.

Nichols said he couldn't do that, Retterath testified.

Two witnesses also testified Thursday about handguns Nichols and Sorenson purchased, including a .45-caliber handgun prosecutors say Nichols used to kill the Willeys and a .22-caliber handgun Sorenson bought four days before the Willeys' deaths.

Five .45-caliber shell casings were found along with the Willeys' unrecognizable bodies, testified Jeff White, a chief agent with the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

When filling out paperwork to apply for the gun, Nichols answered "no" when asked about problems with his mental capacity, former Cabela's employee Scott Nichols testified.

Under questioning from Nichols' defense attorney, Nichols said the store uses background checks instead of checking medical information before selling its guns. Nichols' background check was delayed three days, but he passed, Nichols said under questioning from the prosecution.

Both defense attorneys have reserved their opening statements for after the prosecution's case, so it is unclear whether Nichols' defense attorney is planning to use mental illness as part of his defense. Numerous court documents in the case have been sealed and the judge has gagged the attorneys from speaking about the case.

Twenty-six witnesses have testified for the prosecution after three days. The trial, which is slated to last 18 days, will resume on Monday.

The Forum and The Dickinson Press are both owned by Forum Communications Co.