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Keith Norman, Forum Communications Co., Published April 23 2012

Jamestown woman sentenced to 11 years in death of Somalia native

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Emotions ran high Monday as a Jamestown woman was sentenced to 11 years in prison for her part in the 2011 death of a Jamestown man originally from Somalia.

Janelle Cave, 22, was sentenced by Judge Thomas E. Merrick on criminal conspiracy and manslaughter charges. A jury found Cave guilty of the two charges in the death of Abdi Ali Ahmed, 18, on Feb. 16.

Cave received 11 years in prison on the criminal conspiracy charge and eight years on the manslaughter charge, to be served concurrently. She was originally charged with murder but was found not guilty on that count, which led to the manslaughter charge.

Manslaughter is defined as recklessly causing the death of an individual. It is a Class B felony and punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Criminal conspiracy is a Class AA felony punishable by up to life in prison without parole.

Ahmed died April 30, 2011. Throughout the trial Cave maintained she had not harmed Ahmed but placed the blame on Leron Lee Howard, 34, Jamestown. Howard will face murder and criminal conspiracy charges at his trial in August.

Two members of Ahmed’s family spoke to the court. Both women broke down in tears as they read statements addressed to the judge.

“Does she know what kind of young man she took away?” asked Maria Ali, a 19-year-old niece of the victim from Columbus, Ohio. “The lady who took our uncle away shattered our family. When Abdi was murdered, our whole family was murdered.”

Ali asked the court to impose a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

“I wanted her to die in prison,” she said in a statement after the verdict. “I don’t think justice has been served. She could get out tomorrow.”

She said the punishment was not harsh enough.

“She helped kill someone,” Ali said. “Ten years will not bring my uncle back.”

Cave’s family left the courthouse immediately after the sentencing and could not be reached for comment.

Ahmed was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. in 2006 to escape the civil war there. He lived in Columbus until he moved to Jamestown about a month before his body was found in a road ditch near Spiritwood, N.D., in 2011. He died of blunt head trauma but had also suffered stab wounds.

According to testimony at the trial, he was seen in a downtown Jamestown bar with Howard the night of the murder. Later that evening, he went to the southwest Jamestown home Howard shared with Cave. Howard and Ahmed had an altercation outside the home. Cave and Howard then transported an injured Ahmed into the country, where Howard allegedly stabbed him and left him to die.

Cave testified that she had not harmed Ahmed but assisted Howard in transporting him and disposing of the knife out of fear for her life.

Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney and lead prosecutor on the case, had asked for life in prison with the possibility of parole on the criminal conspiracy charge and nine years in prison on the manslaughter charge.

David Ogren, court-appointed defense attorney, asked for 20 years in prison with five years suspended on the criminal conspiracy charge and eight years in prison on the manslaughter charge also with five years suspended.

In her statement, Cave apologized for what happened. She broke down in tears several times.

“I realize now what I should have done that night,” she said. “I made quick decisions to save my own life. I think of Abdi and his family and it hurts me.”

She said she believed her own life was in danger that night.

“I wake up at night yelling for help,” she said. “I am fortunate to be alive. If I had done anything differently I wouldn’t be here today.”

Merrick dismissed those claims.

“There are so many points you could have taken control of the situation,” he said. “You weren’t expected to do something courageous but people get a little voice in the back of the head that says ‘get out of here.’”

Merrick also said the case still leaves questions.

“Part of the problem is no one can understand why this happened,” he said.

Cave received credit for 359 days she has already served. When she is released she will serve five years of supervised probation and pay fees and costs of $6,926. She is also required to testify as a prosecution witness in Howard’s trial.

Fremgen would not comment on when Cave would be eligible for parole. He also said the sentence was proof the judicial system works.

“The sentence is always up to the judge,” he said. “The system starts with the police and goes through the courts to the judge. It is an adversarial situation, and somebody will always be disappointed, but this is a fair sentence.”

Keith Norman writes for the Jamestown Sun.