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Published December 13 2011

Manhunt suspect requests new plea

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – A registered sex offender who allegedly fled a prisoner transport van and led authorities on a 22-hour manhunt that ended Oct. 5 in a Barnes County cornfield has requested a change of plea and sentencing hearing.

Joseph Matthew Megna, 30, previously pleaded not guilty to a felony escape charge in Barnes County District Court. A letter from the court setting the charge of plea and sentencing was filed Monday.

The hearing is set for 10 a.m. Jan. 4 in Valley City.

Megna’s attorney, Mark Blumer, confirmed that Megna asked for the plea change and sentencing but declined to discuss it further, saying things could change before the hearing.

The escape charge accuses Megna of fleeing the van at the Oriska rest area on Interstate 94 while he was in custody for felony extradition to Washington.

Megna is charged in Washington’s Franklin County with first-degree child molestation – a Class A felony punishable by life in prison – for allegedly fondling a boy under age 12 on multiple occasions.

He remains in the Barnes County jail on $100,000 bail.

Meanwhile, authorities and farmers are still waiting for the insurer of the transport company, Extradition Transport of America LLC, to reimburse them for $91,023 in costs associated with the manhunt.

Farmers, who combined part of the cornfield near Tower City in an attempt to help authorities flush out Megna, are claiming more than $35,000 in expenses. Other costs include $15,472 for a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter and $11,277 for a North Dakota Highway Patrol airplane.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office claimed $8,450 in expenses.

Barnes County Sheriff Randy McClaflin, who claimed $4,756 for his office, said he was told last week that the insurer has the necessary reports and documentation, and he expects the parties to be fully reimbursed.

“I don’t expect a fast closure to this, but there will be a closure,” he said.