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Keith Norman, Forum Communications, Published August 23 2012

Jamestown man convicted of killing Somali immigrant

JAMESTOWN, N.D. – A Jamestown man faces up to life in prison without parole after a jury found him guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy Thursday in Southeast District Court.

Leron Howard, 35, Jamestown, held his head in his hands and appeared to cry as the verdict was read. The charges are Class AA felonies punishable by life in prison without parole.

The jury of eight women and four men came back with the verdict after 12½ hours of deliberation over two days. Howard was convicted of murdering Abdi Ali Ahmed, 18, Jamestown, in an incident that occurred early April 30, 2011. Ahmed’s body was found in a road ditch near Spiritwood. An autopsy determined he died of blunt force trauma to the head and had also been stabbed in the abdomen.

Howard admitted striking Ahmed during an altercation. Steve Mottinger, Howard’s court-appointed attorney, asked the jury to convict Howard of manslaughter.

Ahmed was born in Somalia but lived in Ohio before moving to James-town in March 2011.

Family members of the victim from Columbus, Ohio, attended Janelle Cave’s and Howard’s trials. A jury convicted Cave of manslaughter and criminal conspiracy in the case in February. She has appealed the conviction but is currently serving an 11-year sentence.

Part of her sentence obligated her to testify against Howard.

“This trial was worse,” said Anya Ahmed, sister of the victim. “It got harder with the second trial. More emotional.”

She also felt the maximum penalties for murder in North Dakota were too lenient.

“I hope he gets life,” Anya Ahmed said. “I want the death penalty but you don’t have that here.”

Maria Ali, the victim’s niece, felt her uncle had only received partial justice.

“I thought he would get manslaughter because that is what Janelle (Cave) got,” she said. “Half of justice was served. I can’t be too happy. It is still up to the judge.”

Ali said the trials left many unanswered questions for the family.

“Maybe we would have closure if they told us why,” she said. “Everything they said was a lie. We haven’t heard what actually happened.”

Cave and Howard both testified to the events surrounding Ahmed’s death. The versions often contradicted each other. Cave testified that Howard stabbed Ahmed while Howard testified Cave stabbed Ahmed. Howard also testified Cave argued with Ahmed before he struck Ahmed; Cave testified she was not present when Howard hit Ahmed.

Attorneys in the case felt all the information available was presented.

“The jury spent over 60 hours on the case,” said Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney. “We gave them the best information we could give them. The system seems to work.”

Mottinger agreed.

“It was a tough case from the perspective of both sides,” he said. “All the evidence was in play and this is what they came up with.”

Prior to the trial, Mottinger had asked for a change of venue in the case citing publicity associated with the Cave trial. Judge Thomas Merrick denied that motion.

“We picked a good jury,” Mottinger said. “The change of venue request was not a factor.”

Howard remains in custody at the Stutsman County Correctional Center. A presentence investigation was ordered with sentencing to follow in about two months.

Keith Norman writes for The Jamestown Sun

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