Both sides rest in Bowman County homicide case
Editor's note: This story contains content that may be graphic for some readers. Both sides rested their case Wednesday, Feb. 21, in the double felony jury trial of two people charged in the 2016 death of a Rhame man at a motel in Bowman at the S...
Editor's note: This story contains content that may be graphic for some readers.
Both sides rested their case Wednesday, Feb. 21, in the double felony jury trial of two people charged in the 2016 death of a Rhame man at a motel in Bowman at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson.
Madison Beth West, 27, of Dickinson, and Chase Duane Swanson, 22, of Bowman, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, a Class AA felony, in Bowman County.
The charges stem from the death of Nicholas Johnson, 23, of Rhame, who was found dead in a room at the El-Vu motel in Bowman on Aug. 20, 2016. A Class AA felony faces a maximum of life in prison without parole.
West spent around five hours on the stand Wednesday as she gave her testimony of the events of Aug. 19-20, 2016. West's attorney, Kevin McCabe, indicated that West had chosen to asserted her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent previously.
West said she and Swanson began dating around Aug. 1, 2016. She said she had known Swanson for about eight months prior to dating.
She testified that on Aug. 18, 2016 she and Swanson had gotten into an argument where she had kicked Swanson out of the motel. The next morning, West said Swanson came back around 9 a.m. allegedly intoxicated. She said later that day a co-worker came by to help her mount a television. She testified they had brought two El-Vu ratchets into the room to mount the television, as well as a red Maglite flashlight that came from West's car.
Later, Swanson and West went to Windy's Bar in Bowman on Aug. 19, where she got intoxicated. She said Johnson offered to give them a ride home, which they agreed to. She stated she had never met Johnson before.
During the drive to the motel, West stated that Johnson proposed having a threesome with them, which she stated she agreed to.
Once at the motel, West testified she went to the bathroom and took off her clothes. She testified she walked up to Johnson who told her to perform oral sex on him, which she was willing to do. West testified Swanson then began to punch Johnson.
"He just kept hitting him and hitting him," West testified, adding she did not believe Johnson hit Swanson once.
West testified that Johnson eventually fell to the ground and Swanson kicked him. She stated she kept telling Swanson to stop hitting him, but he wouldn't.
West believed that Swanson hit Johnson around 20 times with a ratchet. West said she laid on Johnson's body to try and shield him from the continuing blows at one point. She also stated she tried to take Johnson's pulse but could not find one.
West claimed that Swanson later grabbed a belt and wrapped it around Johnson's neck and lifted him off the ground. She said later there was a knock at the door and Swanson let Todd Pashano, who was living in a nearby room, inside. Pashano has been charged with Class C felony hindering law enforcement in connection to the case.
She testified after Pashano entered the room, Swanson began to hit Johnson with the flashlight and claimed he said "This is what happens to snitches."
When Pashano attempted to leave, she said she hugged him to get him to stay because she was afraid to be alone with Swanson. West testified she was terrified and was sobbing and screaming much of the time.
Swanson allegedly tried to cut the victim's throat with a knife. Swanson then said "we need to go" and told West to put on her clothes and begin packing up the room, West testified.
"I did what I was told to do," West said, adding Swanson was "in charge the whole time."
She stated Swanson told her to blindfold Pashano before they traveled, in Johnson's truck, to Swanson's parents' home where Swanson allegedly got a gun. West said they eventually drove to Cheyenne, Wyo., where they stopped at her father's home. She said they dropped off many items, including those that had blood on them. She claimed she never threw anything into the trash there.
She also testified that she had texted her sister to tell her that she was either going to Mexico or to prison, something she would also tell another man who lived at the West home in Wyoming.
She said she feared for her life the entire time because she had seen the handgun Swanson had.
"I never wanted Nicholas Johnson to die," West said. She said she never hit, kicked or stomped on Johnson's body. She also denied putting a flashlight up anyone's rectum and said the shoe prints on Johnson's body were from when she tripped on the body.
Eventually they made their way to Denver, where they would later be arrested.
During cross examination, Jonathan Byers, with the Attorney General's office, asked West about an incident at the Denver jail where West allegedly tried to get out of jail by using another person's "barcode" and tried to make officers believe she was someone else. West initially denied trying to escape but later confirmed that had happened.
Though she said she wouldn't have gone far, only to her father's, and said she would have turned herself in in North Dakota.
In response to questions from Swanson's attorney, Thomas Murtha, West stated she did not know there was blood on a fitted sheet she had picked up and used as a makeshift suitcase. She stated she did not know how that sheet ended up in the trash can in Cheyenne.
She also stated she did not have an agreement with Swanson to kill Johnson and had no part in any of the assault.
Jason West, Madison's father, also testified on Wednesday. He said his relationship with his daughter is good and said that Madison "ran with the wrong crowd" in high school and said she had problems with drugs.
Jason West said Madison was in rehab facilities in different places, including Mandan, N.D., where she obtained her GED.
He said he spoke with her when she was at Windy's Bar in Bowman on Aug. 19, 2016.
Jason West said the next time he directly spoke to Madison was when she was in a jail cell in Denver.
Each side rested its case on Wednesday. Closing arguments will begin Thursday morning.