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Published October 18 2011

Landlord’s attorney argues self-defense

FARGO – The attorney for a West Fargo landlord accused of intentionally running over an ex-tenant with his Hummer told jurors Tuesday that his 73-year-old client acted in self-defense and didn’t know he had run over anyone.

But jurors also heard a recording of the frantic 911 call in which Aaron Knutson, who witnessed his friend and roommate Brian Hemphill being run over on the street by Alois Vetter, told a dispatcher, “It happened intentionally.”

“Brian tried to stop him, and he clearly would not stop,” Knutson told the dispatcher.

Vetter is standing trial in Cass County District Court on felony charges of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment in connection with the Feb. 18 incident on the street outside his duplex in the 600 block of Second Avenue West in West Fargo.

His attorney, Mark Meyer, told jurors in his opening statement that Vetter was scared and didn’t know he had run over Hemphill because he was looking down to work the Hummer’s shifter and didn’t see Hemphill fall.

Meyer said another duplex tenant whom Vetter had evicted and suspected of dealing drugs had moved into position behind the Hummer.

“I think what you’ll find is that Al was boxed in and had no other choice,” Meyer told the jury.

Hemphill had moved out of the duplex several days before the incident after breaking up with his girlfriend, who remained in the duplex, Meyer said.

Vetter was in the process of evicting the ex-girlfriend for not paying rent and was driving by the duplex to see if she had moved out when the incident occurred, Meyer said.

Hemphill, who had been drinking when he stopped by the duplex with Knutson to pick up his things, walked into the street to try to stop Vetter and talk to him, Knutson testified.

Knutson said he saw the Hummer slow to 5 mph or less, bump into Hemphill and then come to a stop.

Vetter was screaming at Hemphill from inside the Hummer, Knutson said. He said Vetter continued to bump Hemphill down the street in a stop-and-go motion until Hemphill fell and the driver’s-side tires ran over him, breaking several ribs and collapsing a lung. Hemphill was hospitalized for 10 days.

On cross-examination, Meyer asked if there was anything to prevent Hemphill from moving out of the Hummer’s way after it first bumped him; Knutson said there wasn’t.

Vetter is expected to testify today, Meyer said.

Last week, Vetter filed a federal lawsuit claiming malicious and negligent prosecution by Cass County officials – including State’s Attorney Birch Burdick – who brought the criminal charges against him. The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 in damages plus attorney fees.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528