Man receives two life sentences without parole in double murder
FARGO — On David Stevens’ 36th birthday, the grandfather of Stevens’ two youngest children faced him down in court and asked a judge to lock him up forever.
“Let him be reminded every day he wakes up he’s not going to get out – and he knows where he belongs,” John Wickenheiser said Friday during a Cass County District Court hearing where Stevens was sentenced to two life terms without parole.
Wickenheiser’s daughter, Samantha, 23, was one of two people Stevens, of Fargo, pleaded guilty to killing on Nov. 23 in the parking lot of their shared apartment in north Fargo.
Stevens admitted at a previous hearing that he confronted his estranged girlfriend, Wickenheiser and her friend, Ward Allen Berg, 30, in the former couple’s apartment, and then running them down and stabbing them multiple times outside.
It was behavior typical of Stevens, John Wickenheiser’s father said from the witness stand at a sentencing hearing.
He claimed Stevens got his daughter addicted to drugs, and “took her will away with threats and manipulation.
“He made his move — he chased her down like an animal, again and again,” Wickenheiser said.
A psychologist took the stand to say Stevens told her in an examination that he was angry at Wickenheiser, who had asked him to leave their apartment shortly before the murders because he was wanted by police at the time on an unrelated matter.
Psychologist Nancy Hein-Kolo said Stevens told her Wickenheiser was responsible for them losing custody of their children to Cass County Social Services because of suspected drug abuse in the home.
Hein-Kolo said Stevens resented that Wickenheiser had, he claimed, previously brought Berg, who he believed was her drug dealer, into their home.
“He reported that he was a mess after the kids were taken,” Hein-Kolo said. “He had increased his drinking and wasn’t leaving the house.”
Hein-Kolo said Stevens described to her a childhood marked by sexual abuse, gang involvement, drug and alcohol dependency, a distant mother, and a violent father arrested once for beating him immobile.
“He ended up being homeless at the age of 15,” Hein-Kolo said from the stand, and lied often about feeling suicidal to get into the hospital so he could have a warm place to sleep.
She diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which she said can be triggered and exacerbated by difficult life events losing a relationship, or children.
“If all those things were going on, would those types of things, stressors, affect a person’s PTSD?” asked his defense attorney, Nick Thornton.
“Possibly,” Hein-Kolo replied.
The night of the murders, Stevens’ wife reported he consumed half a bottle of Everclear grain alcohol after persuading her to drive them from Sioux Falls, S.D., to Fargo to get his things.
He didn’t plan to kill Wickenheiser or Berg, but after finding them together, sharing a meth pipe, “it’s analogous to catching your wife in bed with another man,” Thornton said.
He asked Judge Steven Marquart to give Stevens a chance at a life sentence with possibility of parole, saying the murders were a classic example of a crime of passion.
Stevens apologized in court to the Wickenheiser and Berg families, saying he was taking responsibility for his actions.
“I didn’t know I was capable of doing it, especially to somebody I love,” he said.
Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek argued that Stevens’ mental health symptoms could likely have been brought on by his drug abuse. Hein-Kolo said she had no real proof he experienced the traumas he claimed he had.
What there was proof of, instead, was Wickenheiser’s and Berg’s wounds, Van de Streek said. He said they were so horrible he felt it was wrong to show the pictures in court.
The only way to guarantee public safety was no parole for Stevens, Van de Streek said.
Marquart agreed with the prosecution, saying Stevens’ plea and hard life didn’t mitigate the brutality of the murders.
He sentenced Stevens to two life sentences without parole.
John Wickenheiser burst into tears as the judge pronounced his sentence.
He said on the stand his family’s grief had yet to begin to heal.
“Time is not the answer,” Wickenheiser said. “I certainly don’t know what is.”