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Dutton pleads guilty to reduced charges in Leith terrorizing case

BISMARCK – One of two men accused of terrorizing residents of the small North Dakota town of Leith pleaded guilty Friday to reduced charges in a plea agreement that calls for him to testify in the case against the white supremacist who invited him to the town.

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Kynan Dutton should be released from the Mercer County Jail in Stanton “within a few hours,” Grant County State’s Attorney Todd Schwarz said after the hearing that ended just before 11 a.m.

Dutton, 29, moved to Leith from his home state of Oregon in October at the invitation of Craig Cobb, who had bought up property in the small town about 75 miles southwest of Bismarck with the intent of creating an all-white community.

Both men were charged in November with seven felony counts of terrorizing for allegedly approaching Leith residents with loaded firearms and, in one instance, screaming obscenities at two women while Cobb wielded his cane in a threatening manner.

Schwarz said Cobb misled Dutton by telling him he had a nice setup and house in Leith and that he would finish remodeling it before Dutton arrived with his girlfriend and five children.

Cobb also allowed Dutton to believe that members of the community were responsible for vandalizing Dutton’s vehicle, when in fact Cobb was told by the Grant County Sheriff’s Office that another guest of Cobb’s “had essentially admitted to it,” Schwarz said.

“Very simply, he had misled Mr. Dutton, and as a result, Mr. Dutton is faced with a situation that is not quite what he’d been led to believe,” he said.

Dutton’s girlfriend, Deborah Henderson, previously told Forum News Service that she and Dutton are white separatists. Dutton still faces a disorderly conduct charge for disrupting a Leith City Council meeting, an incident caught on video in which he spewed obscenities and at one point yelled “White power!” and “Sieg heil!” the Nazi salute.

Schwarz said he doesn’t think Dutton’s views are quite as strong as Cobb’s, “but I do disagree with his core beliefs,” he said, calling them “irrelevant” to the plea agreement.

Under the plea agreement, five of the Class C felony terrorizing charges against Dutton – each involving firearms and carrying a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison – were reduced to Class A misdemeanor menacing charges.

The other two terrorizing charges, related to an incident in which Dutton screamed obscenities at a young woman and her mother riding in a pickup that he claimed had hit his unleashed dog, were reduced to Class B misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges.

District Judge Donald Jorgensen gave Dutton a one-year suspended jail sentence with credit for time served since his Nov. 16 arrest, and two years of supervised probation.

The judge denied a defense request that would have allowed all of the menacing charges to be wiped from Dutton’s public record if he stays out of trouble. One menacing charge will remain on his record as a conviction.

Schwarz said that was important to the victims because it will limit Dutton’s ability to obtain firearms. Under North Dakota law and current federal policy, Dutton won’t be able to purchase a firearm or possess one for five years after his probation ends, Schwarz said. Whether Dutton will be able to have a gun after that time is “a gray area” because state law differs slightly from federal law, he said.

Schwarz also asked the judge to consider the fact that Dutton racked up the terrorizing charges while out on bond for the disorderly conduct charge. He said he reluctantly reduced the charges to menacing, which he said had more to do with Dutton’s discipline in handling the rifle he carried through Leith and not pointing it at anyone.

Defense attorney Robert Quick asked the judge to take into account Dutton’s clean record and his service in the Marine Corps, which included a tour in Iraq. He said Dutton is an “extremely intelligent” person who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and “kind of got roped into a situation he didn’t understand.”

When asked by the judge why he displayed a loaded weapon in Leith, Dutton said he feared for his safety after his dog was hit and his car was vandalized. He said people also threw rotten food and animal parts into their yard, refused them service and threatened them.

“I felt really pressured by the community as a whole while I lived there,” he said. “It seemed like these people were actively trying to hurt me and my family.”

Jorgensen asked if anyone had threatened him with a weapon at any time.

“No, sir,” Dutton said.

Under his conditions of probation, Dutton must refrain from alcohol, have no contact with his victims and testify as requested by the prosecution in Cobb’s case.

Dutton also must maintain full-time employment. He said he’s a trained chef and has “several jobs that are open to me immediately upon my release.”

Schwarz said he had discussed the plea agreement with the victims prior to the hearing and they were accepting of it.

“Mr. Dutton appears to be much less culpable than Mr. Cobb, and this is an appropriate resolution,” he said.

Cobb pleaded not guilty to the terrorizing charges last week and is scheduled for his next court appearance Feb. 10.

Schwarz, who met with Cobb’s attorney behind closed doors after the plea hearing, said there will be discussions with Cobb about a plea agreement.

“Whether they’ll be fruitful or not, I’m not willing to venture a guess at this time,” he said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.