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Dave Roepke, Published January 11 2011

Judge denies bail for murder suspect

A judge denied bail Monday for a 30-year-old Cooperstown, N.D., man facing a murder charge after the victim’s decapitated head was found in his basement.

The court appearance on Monday by Daniel Evan Wacht was his first since being charged on Friday in Griggs County District Court with murder. Pol-ice allege they found the decapitated head of Kurt Douglas Johnson hidden in the basement of Wacht’s home in Cooperstown, where he had lived for four months.

Court records allege that Johnson, a researcher for North Dakota State University who also lived in Cooperstown, was killed by a gunshot to the forehead before his head was severed. His body hasn’t been found, authorities said in a news conference on Friday.

Assistant Griggs County State’s Attorney Marina Spahr said Wacht appeared in front of Judge James Hovey in Stutsman County, where Wacht is being held in the county jail.

Hovey agreed with the state’s recommendation to deny bail for Wacht, who is also being held on a felony probation violation warrant from California.

Spahr wouldn’t state her argument for denying bail, saying it would be included in the bond order. That order wasn’t filed Monday.

Wacht’s next court date was set for Jan. 25. Spahr said Wacht wasn’t represented by an attorney at the bail hearing, and records don’t yet list a defense attorney.

An order sealing records related to the case was also filed on Monday. The court order was dated and signed by Hovey on Thursday, following a brief and motion by the prosecution not included in the public file.

Spahr wouldn’t comment on the basis of her request to seal the records.

Janice Steffen, the Griggs County clerk of court, said the records order would apply to the search warrant for Wacht’s home and any subpoenas issued by the state in the case. It would not seal records such as the complaint or hearing notices, Steffen said.

According to an affidavit from Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook, a witness saw Wacht throw Johnson into the rear cargo area of his passenger van on New Year’s Eve in Cooperstown at about 9 p.m.

That was the last point at which Johnson was seen alive in public. The 54-year-old was reported as missing on Jan. 4 by family and friends, Hook said Friday.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535