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Archie Ingersoll, Forum Communications Co., Published July 09 2010

Man claims self-defense in killing of his brother

A man from rural Manvel, N.D., was charged with murder Thursday after admitting to killing his brother during a fight over a piece of land.

Rodney Chisholm, 45, told investigators he killed his 59-year-old brother, Donald Chisholm, on or about June 24 by either hitting him in the head with a metal pipe, strangling him or a combination of the two, according to a deputy’s report filed in court.

Rodney Chisholm led investigators to the property where he killed his brother and showed them where his brother’s body was buried, authorities said.

The property, which contains some outbuildings and junked vehicles within a grove of trees, is surrounded by farmland. It belongs to the Chisholms’ mother and is three miles east and 1½ miles north of Mekinock, N.D., a town about five miles north of Grand Forks Air Force Base.

Wednesday evening, investigators at the scene used shovels to dig up the decomposing remains of a man. County authorities believe the body is Donald Chisholm’s, but they are waiting for confirmation from the coroner’s office.

A preliminary autopsy report, which may explain how Donald Chisholm died and the sort of injuries he suffered, is expected within a week, State’s Attorney Peter Welte said.

Rodney’s story

Rodney Chisholm, who spoke with the Grand Forks Herald at the jail Thursday, said he doesn’t remember the exact day it happened, but it was either June 23, 24 or 25.

He was moving onto the property northeast of Mekinock, a spot about five miles west of where he had been living. He planned to set up a trailer and live there.

His brother came out while he was moving items onto the property. At first, it seemed there would be a conversation as they leaned against a trailer that was being unloaded, but the complexion of the moment changed quickly.

His brother became angry, telling him he ­wasn’t going to be moving onto the property.

“He started saying this is this and that is that, just started going with the mouth.”

He said Donald Chisholm grabbed a length of metal pipe from the trailer.

“He kind of jumped me and took a swing at me and clipped me with a piece of iron,” he said.

The pipe hit him in the head near his hairline. “He got me conked, and when I come to, I grabbed mine, and I guess I got a better shot in,” he said.

On Thursday, Rodney Chisholm did not have a clear sign of having been struck with a pipe. He noted that the initial injury was a slight one and that time had passed since the fight.

Rodney Chisholm said the blow from the pipe put his brother down. Still, he said, he feared for his life. So to make his survival certain, he said, he strangled him.

“How many chances are you gonna wanna give someone?” he said.

With his brother dead on the ground, Rodney Chisholm tried to grasp the reality.

“I was in disbelief that what was happening was happening because when he came in, I was relaxed like we were going to have a conversation, and that’s not how it ended up,” he said.

He said he told his brother before that day that he was going to move onto the property and that they had discussed it. He said he does not know why his brother was against him moving there.

On the property that’s a distance from any homes, Rodney Chisholm buried his brother.

“There was a mound of dirt, and I covered him up,” he said.

He said he doesn’t feel like he committed murder. “At that time, it felt to me like self-defense,” he said.

So did he think about reporting his brother’s death?

“Every minute,” he said. “And as time goes on, it just gets to be more difficult.”

He was reluctant to call the sheriff’s department, which, he said, had wronged him on three occasions. “So I didn’t really trust them,” he said.

Before charging Rodney Chisholm with murder, authorities arrested him July 2 under suspicion of possessing thousands of dollars worth of farm implements they believed were stolen. He bailed out of jail the next day, allegedly stole a relative’s car and drove to Nebraska, where officers busted him on the Fourth of July.

He told the Herald he was going to visit a high school friend in Vallejo, Calif., and was hoping to borrow enough money to hire a lawyer. He also wanted the therapy of a road trip. “I needed to kind of go for a little drive – clear my head,” he said.

He said he planned to return to North Dakota on Saturday.

Two agents from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation flew to Nebraska on Tuesday to speak with Rodney Chisholm about his brother’s disappearance, and they brought him back to the Grand Forks jail early Wednesday.

Rodney Chisholm said the agents made him aware of his rights, and he explained to them how he killed his brother – the brother he grew up with, the brother he used to work for, the brother he was “pretty close” with.

“I wish he was back,” Rodney Chisholm said.

Search for Donald

Donald Chisholm, a farmer who lived alone in Manvel, N.D., was reported missing July 2, the same day deputies arrested Rodney Chisholm on suspicion of holding stolen farm equipment.

Another Chisholm brother, Ken, told the sheriff’s department that he had not spoken with Donald Chisholm since June 23. The family told investigators it was very unusual for Donald Chisholm to be out of touch for so long.

During the search, officers questioned relatives and friends and scoured places where they thought Donald Chisholm may have been. The family checked his home, a rural property where he has a repair shed and along the Red River where the Chisholms have land.

Thursday, authorities said the family asked the sheriff’s department to tell the news media not to contact them. “This is a lot for them to process right now,” Welte said.

Rodney Chisholm faces a murder charge that carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. He appeared in state District Court via interactive television Thursday, and Judge Debbie Kleven set his bail on the charge at $1 million. Kleven told him he cannot leave North Dakota if he posts bail.

He told the judge he plans to decide within a day or two whether he’ll hire an attorney or apply for a court-appointed defender. A hearing was set for July 15 to address that issue.

In addition to murder, he faces theft charges related to his relative’s car and the farm equipment found July 2.

Archie Ingersoll is a writer for the Grand Forks Herald