Jury finds defendants in Bowman County homicide case guilty on all charges

The two suspects charged in the 2016 death of a Rhame man at a motel in Bowman were found guilty on all charges on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson.

Chase Swanson

The two suspects charged in the 2016 death of a Rhame man at a motel in Bowman were found guilty on all charges on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the Stark County Courthouse in Dickinson.

Madison Beth West, 27, of Dickinson, and Chase Duane Swanson, 22, of Bowman, were 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 and Swanson were also found guilty of theft of property, a Class C felony. Johnson's 1999 Chevrolet pickup was found in Denver, where the two, along with Todd Pashano, were arrested at the Art Hotel.

Pashano has been charged with Class C felony hindering law enforcement in connection with the case. His jury trial is currently set for May 30.


Swanson was also found guilty on a third charge of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, a Class C felony.

In total the trial lasted eight days and included testimony from more than a dozen witnesses, including testimony from law enforcement, the North Dakota forensic examiner, Pashano and the defendants themselves.

The jury listened to nearly four hours worth of closing arguments on Thursday before taking a recess for lunch. Following the reading of jury instructions the jury was excused to deliberate. They returned less than two hours later to render their verdict.

Following the close of the trial, Bowman County State's Attorney Stephanie Pretzer said she felt honored to be able to seek justice for Johnson's family.

"It has been my greatest honor as a prosecutor to help seek justice under the law for Nicholas Johnson," she said. "It has been a long 18 months but what has been long on me has been nothing compared to what his family has gone through."

Pretzer said she was nervous before the verdict was read. She said she and her team, which included Jonathan Byers and Britta Demello Rice from the North Dakota Attorney General's office, as well as North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigations agent Timothy Helmer, felt they were prepared and put together the best case they could.

"We really felt we put our best case forward," she said. "... When we rested we felt really good about our case and what we showed the jury, but we didn't know what was going through the heads of those 12 people so that always makes it very scary."

Pretzer said the Attorney General's office has been involved in the case for "the long haul."


"I am so appreciative of them because they took a Bowman County case and made it their own and for that I'm forever grateful, for them and for the AG's office for lending them to me," she said.

Attempts to speak with the defense attorneys were not successful.

Southwest District Judge James GIon ordered a presentence investigation for both defendants, the timeline on sentencing was not clear.

Madison West
Madison West

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