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Brittany Lawonn, Published March 18 2008

Testimony ends in first day of murder trial for Fargo couple accused in killing rural ND couple

UPDATED 5:22 p.m.

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. – The first day of testimony in a Fargo couple's double murder trial for the deaths of a Sykeston, N.D., couple has ended here after jurors heard from four witnesses, including the deceased's son.

A deputy who arrived at the fire scene and two men involved in the trust account set up for Donald and Alice Willey's granddaughter, who is also Tamara Sorenson's daughter, also testified about how the roughly $2.2 million trust is handled.

During opening arguments Tuesday, prosecutors said Sorenson’s need to control visitation between her daughter and the girl’s paternal grandparents led to Sorenson concocting a plot with Nichols to kill the Willeys.

Nichols is accused of murder for the shooting of Donald Willey, 70, and his wife, Alice, 67, in the head and chest. Sorenson is facing an accomplice-to-murder charge for allegedly helping Nichols plot the April 6 killings.

The Willeys’ bodies were found burned beyond recognition on April 7.

Prosecutors allege Nichols set the home ablaze after shooting the couple.

During opening arguments, Wells County States Attorney Kathleen Trosen told the 14-member jury, composed of nine women and five men and including two alternates, to pay attention to statements Sorenson and Nichols, both of Fargo, made about the visitation battle they were involved in with the Willeys. Trosen said the heated fight is an “intricate part” to the state’s case against them.

Trosen said the state will call several witnesses during the 18-day trial, including several experts:

- A fire expert will testify that the fire was started by a “human-introduced method.”

- A handwriting expert will testify about a hand-drawn diagram of the Willey residence prosecutors say Sorenson drew for Nichols to help him murder the couple.

- A ballistics expert will testify about the .45-caliber bullets and shell casings found at the scene and linked to a .45-caliber gun Nichols purchased Feb. 13, 2007. The Willeys were granted visitation rights to their granddaughter that day.

Defense attorneys for Nichols and Sorenson reserved their opening arguments until after the state’s case, citing both the time that will take and the large number of witnesses expected to testify.

The state’s first witness, Wells County Sheriff’s Deputy Allen Kluth, will continue testifying Tuesday afternoon about the investigation following the fire at the Willey residence last April.

The trial’s opening arguments began shortly after 10 a.m. It took prosecutors nearly 10 minutes to read the list of charges against the two defendants. Each faces two Class AA felony charges, with three alternate versions of each count.

The defendants both appeared in court wearing suits. They aren’t handcuffed or shackled, but they both have concealed security devices on their legs. Several Willey family members are in attendance.

Check back to www.inforum.com for more updates Tuesday and read Wednesday’s Forum for more details.