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Judge refuses to take guilty plea from man charged in double murder

By Emily Welker Forum News Service FARGO — A Cass County judge refused to accept a double-murder guilty plea Monday from the man who admits he stabbed to death his ex-girlfriend and her alleged drug dealer, on the grounds he may not be mentally capable to accept responsibility. Judge Steven Marquart rejected the guilty plea after David George Stevens swore under oath that “anger, humiliation … and lies” were what led him to kill Samantha Dawn Wickenheiser, 23, Fargo, and Ward Allen Berg, 30, Moorhead, on Nov. 23 after discovering the two entangled on the floor of the home Stevens once shared with Wickenheiser and their two children. Wickenheiser, he said, had a pipe in her hand. “I saw two people … laughing in my face. It’s what I felt,” Stevens told the court. Stevens, 35, of Fargo appeared in Cass County District Court on Monday at an arraignment hearing in the double-murder case. Nick Thornton, his attorney, asked Stevens why he wanted to enter a guilty plea. Stevens said he wanted to put his family first, and that they could not begin the healing process until the case was over. “I killed the woman I love, and whatever happened to cause that, it’s no excuse,” he said. In a voice so quiet his testimony was at times hard to hear, Stevens told the court he hadn’t seen Wickenheiser since the night of Nov. 11 when she left their home and didn’t return. Six hundred text messages later, Wickenheiser had only responded a handful of times, Stevens said. He moved out of their north Fargo home Nov. 23. He said he originally went to Wickenheiser’s home to slash the tires on her car but discovered the other man’s vehicle parked beside it. Stevens said he did not recall he had knives in his hands at the time of the killings. “I mean, the knives were like an extension of my hands,” he said. “I wanted to hurt them both.” When Berg ran past him, Stevens stabbed him in the stomach and chased him into the street, demanding if Wickenheiser had been “worth it.” “He said ‘no,’” Stevens said. “I said she was to me – and I cut his throat.” Stevens then turned to Wickenheiser, who had followed the pair outside, screaming. “You cost me my kids, my home, my life …,” he recalled saying to the victim, whose drug abuse had been the reason the pair lost their home as well as custody of their children, he said. Stevens said he didn’t recall stabbing Wickenheiser, who was found with a serrated knife in her head. “I thought I just hit her in the head and she fell down,” Stevens said. Stevens at one point told Thornton he thought he had suffered a psychotic break and had been insane at the time of the murders but came back from the break directly afterward. Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek questioned Stevens about his mental state, and about the drugs he had been taking at the time of the killings. Stevens replied he’s been on and off medication and in and out of treatment centers since the age of 10 for his mental health issues, which included a schizoaffective disorder. He lost medical coverage when he and his wife, April, separated, he said, which affected his ability to receive medical treatment. “I talk to walls half the day,” he said. Stevens also admitted under the prosecution’s questioning that he came to Fargo on the night of Nov. 22 with his wife in order to seek out his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. When he saw Berg’s van, Stevens said he “just lost it.” Court documents state that April Stevens told police she drove her husband to Fargo to retrieve clothes he left at Wickenheiser’s apartment. Marquart said he could not take any plea from Stevens and ordered him to undergo a psychological evaluation. “I have to be sure he’s competent before he can plead guilty or not guilty,” Marquart said. “I have concerns he even knows what’s going on today.” Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said victims’ families, who are kept abreast of plans to plead guilty in high-profile cases such as Stevens’, usually welcome guilty pleas because they often bring a case to closure. “This one is unusual in how it unfolded in court,” he said. Burdick said he had never had a judge refuse to take a guilty plea from a defendant under these circumstances.