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Bowman couple get life without parole for conspiracy to commit murder

Madison Beth West, 28, and Chase Duane Swanson, 23, were sentenced to life in prison without parole for conspiracy to commit murder. The charges stem from the motel murder of Nicholas Johnson in Bowman County in 2016. Submitted photo.

Sentencing in the Bowman County motel homicide concluded as Chase Duane Swanson and Madison Beth West were sentenced Monday to life without parole for conspiracy to commit murder.

The couple, who were found guilty by a jury trial in February of the beating and strangulation death of Nicholas Johnson of Rhame, sat quietly before a packed courtroom. Sentencing began at the Stark County Courthouse with Judge James D. Gion attending arguments for and against leniency by counsels representing the convicted couple and the state.

The couple sat separated by counsel as the judge listened intently to the arguments and statements provided to the court. Swanson rocked nervously in his seat with head stooped throughout most of the hearing, while West sat motionless with her attention engrossed on the every word of the judge.

The family of the victim listened intently, tissues in hand, as Judge Gion began his sentencing procedures with an opening statement. The judge pointed to the convicted couple's "significant criminal histories" and the inconsistent arguments made during trial relating to self-defense.

"I'm optimistic and trust in the potential of good in all people. This court has the most difficult decision to make, and I intend to use a balanced approach in this matter," the judge began. "Arguments of self-defense can't necessarily be argued on a conspiracy to commit murder case, and restitution is out of the question because we can't bring the victim back."

After the judge expounded on the legal arguments made by counsel for mercy, the couple were provided an opportunity to address the court before sentencing commenced—an offer West declined, sitting motionless in her seat.

In a prepared statement, Swanson addressed the court very briefly asking for leniency saying "I feel horrible about what happened," before retaking his seat without addressing the victim's family seated behind him.

Judge Gion began sentencing with West.

As the judge issued his sentence to West of life without parole, a sudden and noticeable gasp of relief could be heard coming from the family of the victim who wore "Justice for Nick" pins on their shirts. West, visibly shaken, began sobbing uncontrollably as her attorney consoled her. Peering back toward her family for the first time during the sentencing, she sobbed as her family silently mouthed words of consolation and support.

Swanson was next to be sentenced.

The judge issued a mirroring sentence, life without parole, for Swanson who stood indifferent as his family audibly expressed their discontent with the decision through hushed expletives.

Remanded into the custody of the Bowman County Sheriff's office until a transfer to the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could be facilitated, the couple were escorted from the courtroom amid tears of joy and sadness.

The attorneys for Swanson and West declined comment on the ruling but expect to appeal the decision in the coming weeks.

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