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Murder conspiracy case going to trial again in September

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Madison West and Chase Swanson will be tried again in Bowman County in September for conspiracy to commit murder. Though found guilty in 2018, the North Dakota Supreme Court in July overturned the conviction. (submitted photo)

A Bowman County murder conspiracy case will go to trial again in September 2020.

Chase Duane Swanson, 24, of Bowman, and Madison West, 29, of Dickinson, were both found guilty in 2018 of conspiracy to commit murder, a class AA felony.

Both were sentenced to life without parole.

The North Dakota Supreme Court in July, though, reversed and remanded the sentences for Swanson and West.

Swanson and West are scheduled to go to jury trial again starting Sept. 14, Bowman County State's Attorney Andrew J.Q. Weiss confirmed.

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Weiss said Bowman County is readying to take the cases to trial, and he feels optimistic in their efforts.

"We're really just relitigating the same case, with the guidance of the (North Dakota) Supreme Court," Weiss said.

The charges stem from the death of Nicholas Johnson, 23, of Rhame, who was found strangled and beaten to death in a room at the El-Vu motel in Bowman in August 2016.

Swanson's attorney, Thomas Murtha, of Murtha Law Firm in Dickinson, argued to the Supreme Court that the district court’s jury instructions didn’t properly inform the jury on the necessary culpability of conspiracy to commit murder.

Murtha challenged the idea that someone can conspire to accidentally kill someone in a fight.

"You can't do intentionally 'or' knowingly for conspiracy," he told The Dickinson Press. "You can do intentionally, but when you put the 'or knowingly' in there, the state no longer has to prove it was anybody's purpose to kill."

A unanimous court opinion filed by Justice Jon J. Jensen upheld that "conspiracy to 'knowingly' cause the death of another human being is a noncognizable offense as it does not require the actor to have had an intent to cause the death."

"It allows an individual to be convicted of the offense without an intent to cause the death of another human being," the opinion concluded. "We reverse the judgment of conviction with regard to the charge of conspiracy to commit murder, and remand to the district court for a new trial on that charge."

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