N. Dakota Supreme Court orders review of 2012 conviction
GRAND FORKS — The North Dakota Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to review its 2012 conviction of a Grafton man on an attempted murder charge, saying the district court erred in its technical interpretation of whether the needed intent to murder was present.
Esteban Dominguez, then 29, was convicted in February 2012 by a jury in Grafton of attempted murder and terrorizing for threatening David Nelson Jr. with a .22-caliber rifle, shooting at him four times as he ran away in August 2011.
The Supreme Court said Dominguez’s attempted murder conviction was wrongly tied to the state statute on murder that requires no intent, a “murder under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life,” which the court regularly has said results in “an unintentional death.”
But the state law’s definition of the “attempted” kind of crime “requires an intent to complete the commission of the underlying crime,” the court ruled in an opinion released Friday. So linking an attempted murder to that specific kind of murder is “not a cognizable (or viable) offense,” under state law and practice, it said.
Investigators said Dominguez and a friend, Raymond Wynne of Grafton, picked up Nelson at his home and drove him into a rural area, where he accused Nelson of stealing car rims from a shed.
As Nelson ran away across a field, Dominguez fired at him four times, and Nelson said he lay down, hoping the men would think he was hit.
They apparently did and drove back to Grafton.
Nelson walked back and notified law enforcement.
Wynne was convicted as an accomplice and given a suspended sentence.
Dominguez faced up to 20 years on the terrorizing and attempted murder charges but was sentenced to 15 years with five years suspended.
The Supreme Court said it wasn’t clear the jury understood the court’s instructions, nor was it clear of what kind of attempted murder the jury convicted Dominguez.
Earlier this year the district court rejected Dominguez’s argument that attempted murder with an underlying crime the type of murder distinguished from intentional murder, but due to extreme indifference to human life, wasn’t legally possible.
The state Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s denial, essentially agreeing with Dominguez’s argument, and sent the case back to the district court in Grafton to decide if its error was “harmless,” to Dominguez and if he is entitled to post-conviction relief.
Dominguez, who was defended by Grand Forks attorney Tom Omdahl, remains in prison for now.