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Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun , Published August 13 2012

Jury selection begins Tuesday in murder of Somali immigrant

JAMESTOWN, N.D. - Security will tighten again at the Stutsman County Courthouse as the staff at the State’s Attorney’s Office and Southeast District Court prepare for another murder trial this week.

Jury selection will begin Tuesday in the murder and criminal conspiracy trial of Leron Howard, 34, Jamestown. The charges against him are Class AA felonies. Both carry a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.

Howard is accused in the death of Abdi Ali Ahmed, 18, Jamestown, an immigrant from Somalia. Ahmed’s body was found in a road ditch east of Jamestown near Spiritwood. An autopsy revealed he died of blunt trauma to his head. There were also stab wounds to his torso.

Howard and Janelle Cave, 22, Jamestown, were arrested the day after the incident. Cave was found guilty of manslaughter and criminal conspiracy in February.

During her trial, Cave testified that Howard caused Ahmed’s injuries and she only played a part by moving the injured Ahmed before he died and disposing of evidence later. She said she did so out of fear of Howard.

Cave was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the criminal conspiracy and eight years for the manslaughter charge. Her sentence also requires her to testify at the Howard trial.

Chad Kaiser, Stutsman County sheriff, said courthouse security measures will be similar to those used during the Cave trial.

“Metal detectors and about six officers,” he said. “People should know not to bring handbags into the courthouse and not to bring cellphones into the court.”

Security measures start at the main entrance to the courthouse and will affect those visiting the main-floor administrative offices as well as the upper-floor courtrooms.

One of the few differences in this trial compared to the Cave trial is the jury pool. Jurors from Barnes County are included to help find people who have not already formed an opinion on the case.

“It will be a 12-person jury,” said Barb Hill, clerk of district court. “We will start with 80 prospective jurors — the same as the Cave trial. They are mostly Stutsman County residents with about 20 from Barnes County.”

Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday and will likely continue Wednesday. Opening statements could be delivered Wednesday afternoon. The trial is scheduled to run about two weeks.