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Dale Wetzel, Associated Press writer, Published November 26 2009

Court hears Addai’s murder appeal

BISMARCK – A man convicted of murder in a Fargo stabbing death was stopped for questioning only because he is black and he should be granted a new trial, his lawyer told the North Dakota Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Elijah Addai, 25, of Fargo is serving a life prison term for the slaying of David Delonais, 24, of Moorhead, who was stabbed during an August 2007 fight in south Fargo that involved several men.

Addai’s lawyer, Ross Brandborg, said Cass County prosecutors also dawdled in turning over evidence he needed to defend his client – including a photo of another man’s knife with blood on its blade – despite warnings from two judges who handled the case.

The Supreme Court would deter similar behavior by prosecutors statewide if it reversed Addai’s conviction, Brandborg said.

“Draw a line in the sand,” he urged the justices. “If a case like this got thrown out, this would never happen again.”

The court will rule on the case later.

Leah Viste, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, said police had plenty of reasons to stop the car that was carrying Addai a half-block from where Delonais’ body was found.

Witnesses said Addai had been chasing Delonais, and police had been told to look for a black male suspect.

A police officer saw Addai in the car as it sped through a deserted parking lot early Sunday morning, she said. The officer testified at Addai’s trial that he appeared agitated and was rocking violently back and forth.

“It’s a parking lot of a parochial school and day care center,” Viste said. “There are no cars in this parking lot, and there is a call on the radio that there has just been a fight and a stabbing that has just occurred in the vicinity.”

Brandborg, in court filings and during arguments on Wednesday, said the vehicle was stopped only because Addai is black. The driver was not breaking any laws, he said.

Justice Daniel Crothers questioned Viste about the decision to stop Addai.

“Is it the state’s position that, at that point, they could have stopped any black male, in any car, within a several-block radius?” Crothers asked.

Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle asked: “It was pure skin color at that stage of the game, am I correct?”

No, Viste replied. The officer was close by, “and there’s a vehicle traveling through a parking lot, with a black male in it, who is acting like he’s in some type of duress,” she said.

If the Supreme Court ordered a new trial, evidence against Addai could be suppressed, including bloodstained clothing, a knife found in the vehicle and the identification of Addai as Delonais’ assailant by two nearby newspaper carriers, Brandborg said.

“I’d like to think we have a wide range of things that could be suppressed here, from the identification on up,” he said.

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