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Forum staff reports, Published January 26 2011

Preliminary hearing set in Cooperstown murder

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. – A man accused of killing a North Dakota State University researcher in Cooperstown won’t have a probable-cause hearing for roughly two months, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Daniel Evan Wacht faces a murder charge in Griggs County District Court for the death of Kurt Johnson.

Griggs County investigators say the severed head of Johnson was found in the basement of Wacht, 30, of Cooperstown, and claim a witness watched Wacht throw Johnson in his van on New Year’s Eve. Family and friends reported the 54-year-old as missing Jan. 4.

In a hearing Tuesday morning, Judge James Hovey agreed to set a preliminary hearing – at which Wacht could challenge the cause for his arrest – for 60 days from now, said his defense attorney, Steve Mottinger.

No date was immediately set, Mottinger said.

Wacht is being held in the Stutsman County Jail in Jamestown without bail. He’s also being held on a felony probation violation warrant based out of California.

Authorities say Johnson’s body hasn’t yet been found, and last week asked for information from anyone who may have seen Wacht’s van in the Fargo-Moorhead area between Jan. 1 and Jan. 4.

The van is a maroon 1995 GMC Safari with North Dakota license plates GKZ 294. Call the Griggs County Sheriff’s Office at (701) 797-2202 with any information.