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Sander charges may be dropped: State files motion to dismiss allegations against former principal

Press File Photo The south entry of Trinity High School in Dickinson shows the charred remains and evidence of a fire that was started March 3. The school’s former principal, Thomas Sander, was charged with arson and endangerment by fire in relation to the blaze, but prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss the allegations.

Prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss charges against former Trinity High School principal Thomas Sander, who is accused of starting the fire that displaced staff and students for the school year.

Sander had been charged with arson and endangering by fire following the March 3 fire started in the school’s office, but key pieces of evidence in the case against him were suppressed by a judge following a hearing Tuesday. Sander’s defense successfully argued he was not properly Mirandized before being held in custody.

Defense attorneys Lloyd Suhr and Jackson Lofgren have maintained Dickinson Police detectives Kylan Klauzer and Terry Oestreich coerced Sander into confessing to starting the fire, according to court documents. The detectives allegedly prevented Sander from leaving the room, telling him, “You have got to talk about this, because if you don’t this will be immensely, immensely worse for you.” They also told Sander they had a note left at the scene matched his handwriting and a video of him starting the fire. A handwriting report concluded that the note could have been written by someone else, and a video was not produced.

Sander said he was innocent but eventually confessed, describing how he started the fire.

Southwest District Judge William Herauf ruled all information obtained after the first 1 hour, 55 minutes and 22 seconds of the March 4 interrogation inadmissible in court on Tuesday. The order to suppress statements Sander made following the fire left state attorney Tom Henning with “insufficient evidence to go forward with reasonable expectation of conviction,” he said.

According to court documents, Sander’s defense responded to the motion to dismiss shortly after it was filed Thursday. Herauf has not signed off on the request, but Suhr said he anticipates the motion will be reviewed next week and expects it will be upheld.

He said that Tuesday’s successful motion to suppress left the prosecution with a “lack of other evidence in the case.”

The timing of the motion, before jury selection and the beginning of a trial, leaves the door open for future charges should more evidence surface, Henning said.

The charges brought against Sander have a statute of limitations of three years.

The state’s motion is good news for the defense, Suhr said. Sander was notified of the development Thursday afternoon.

A juvenile allegedly left a note at the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center, proclaiming Sander’s innocence. The defense has argued that the note helps proves Sander’s innocence because the student knew accurate, non-public details about the fire and had a grudge against the school. Lofgren and Suhr allege investigators ignored other evidence because they “had already announced to the world that Sander was their guy.

A second pre-trial hearing is still scheduled for Tuesday, which is expected to address evidence, including the note, requested by the defense.