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Keith Norman, Jamestown Sun, Published February 16 2012

Jurors deliberating in murder trial in Jamestown

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - The question of Janelle Cave’s guilt in Abdi Ali Ahmed’s murder was handed to 12 jurors Wednesday afternoon.

The jury deliberated for about two hours, until about 5 p.m., and was expected to reconvene this morning at 9 a.m.

Cave, 22, Jamestown, and Leron Lee Howard, 34, Jamestown, are accused of murder and criminal conspiracy in the death of Ahmed on April 30, 2011. Howard is scheduled for trial beginning Aug. 7.

Cave spent more than an hour being cross-examined Wednesday before closing arguments were heard from both attorneys in Southeast District Court.

In his closing argument, Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney and lead prosecutor in the case, said Cave had told four different versions of her story regarding the crime. The final version was given as testimony in her own defense Tuesday and Wednesday. She testified she was forced to transport Howard and an unconscious Ahmed and throw a knife Howard used to stab the victim into the James River, out of fear of Howard.

“She never said in her earlier taped interviews why she did those things,” Fremgen said.

Fremgen also said in his closing argument that Cave had opportunities when she was away from Howard to call law enforcement officers or to seek medical assistance for Ahmed. Ahmed died in a road ditch near Spiritwood.

Dr. William Massello, forensic examiner for the North Dakota Crime Lab, testified Monday that Ahmed died from blunt head injury. He said stab wounds to Ahmed’s abdomen likely hastened his death.

Fremgen also questioned the motive for the killing. Cave had testified that Ahmed began to cry when he was asked to leave the home that Howard and Cave shared, saying he had nowhere else to go. Cave said Howard struck Ahmed after he had left the home and was across the street.

“When you look at why in this case with Ms. Cave you will be stymied,” he said. “She can’t give you the real reason because if she did you would know she’s in on it up to her eyeballs.”

David Ogren, court-appointed defense attorney, said Cave’s fear was real.

“She became scared when she saw what Howard was capable of,” Ogren said. “She got more scared as the night went on, I think the term she used was ‘terrified.’ The state will argue she helped get rid of evidence. She was in survival mode.”

Ogren said the evidence leaves room for questions.

“Here’s where the reasonable doubt comes in,” he said. “I submit there is plenty of reasonable doubt with regards to Ms. Cave. There are numerous issues to consider in this case and that raises the bar on reasonable doubt.”

Ogren also reiterated in his closing argument that Cave had testified she had not harmed Ahmed.

“There is no evidence Cave struck or stabbed Ahmed,” Ogren said.

The jury has a total of four charges to consider. If jurors find Cave not guilty of murder they would also consider the lesser charges of manslaughter or negligent homicide. The second charge of criminal conspiracy has no lesser included charges.

Manslaughter is defined as recklessly causing the death of an individual while negligent homicide is defined as causing the death through a negligent act.

“You can find she has no criminal responsibility or you can find she has some level of responsibility,” Ogren said.

The final alternate to the jury was excused before the beginning of deliberation Wednesday. A panel of four women and eight men is deliberating the case.

The murder and criminal conspiracy charges are Class AA felonies punishable upon conviction by up to life in prison without parole.

Thomas E. Merrick is presiding over the trial, which began with jury selection on Feb. 6.