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Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, Published October 31 2012

Accused shooter: ‘I didn’t want to hit him’

GRAND FORKS - Travis Samshal testified in his trial Wednesday in Grand Forks that he deliberately missed Leo Franco when he fired a 7 mm bullet over his roommate’s shoulder from a few feet away.

But he also said he first drew a pointblank bead on Franco’s middle to convince his roommate his “intention” was to shoot Franco if necessary because he feared for his life.

Samshal, 27, faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted of attempted murder. He also faces a lesser charge of reckless endangerment with a prison sentence of up to five years.

His jury trial in state district court began Monday and testimony is slated to end today. The jury of seven women and six men, including an alternate, will begin deliberations Friday, Judge Debbie Kleven said.

The prosecution rested its case just before noon Wednesday after calling seven witnesses over two days, including Franco.

Samshal was the first defense witness.

Under questioning from his attorney Blake Hankey, Samshal said he met Franco in May 2011 when the Cuban immigrant moved into the two-bedroom apartment on South 17th Street in Grand Forks that Samshal leased.

Samshal testified at first they got along well, hunting, traveling and socializing together.

But he said Franco increasingly became controlling and made “weird” advances including exposing himself and massaging, hugging and kissing Samshal so that it “creeped me out.”

Samshal said that as a child in Moorhead and a high school student in Red Lake Falls, Minn., he often was bullied because of his small stature.

He said Wednesday that he is 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. Franco is bigger and stronger and several times wrestled him down, pinning him, he said.

Over Thanksgiving last year while visiting Samshal’s family in Red Lake Falls, he and Franco had a fistfight on the street that left him bleeding, with two black eyes, a fractured nose and a fear for his life that Franco would do it again.

Franco testified Tuesday that Samshal started the fight and also blackened Franco’s eye. He also said he did not expose himself to Samshal or make advances on him.

Samshal said he didn’t want Franco to visit his family during Thanksgiving even though his mother had invited Franco.

He said he didn’t want the “embarrassing” behavior by Franco to be seen by his family. “I’m not gay and I don’t want to come off as being gay.”

Despite the conflicts, the two went hunting Dec. 13, then drank beer for six hours or more at three Grand Forks bars and brandy in their kitchen when they got home.

But after he went to bed about 2:45 a.m., Franco wouldn’t leave him alone, Samshal testified.

He slammed the door once on Franco, then picked up his high-powered hunting rifle and leaned against the door, afraid of being hurt again.

“I was scared for my life,” Samshal said.

Franco again pushed open the door and stood in the threshold.

Samshal said he pointed his rifle at Franco’s head from 9 feet away and told him to stay out and “leave me alone.” He said he then worked the bolt-action to show Franco the rifle was loaded, and aimed the rifle at Franco’s middle.

“I felt it was necessary to put the aim down on his body to show my intention was, if need be, to stop his progress toward me,” Samshal said.

But Franco took another step.

“I had made my boundaries in my head and he crossed the boundary,” Samshal said.

He had two options, to “scare” Franco or “drop him,” he testified, explaining why he used those terms to police shortly after the shooting.

Samshal said he chose the first option and fired over Franco’s right shoulder, demonstrating the move with the same rifle, rendered inoperative by the bolt being removed.

“I didn’t want to hit him,” Samshal said.

He said he’s an experienced hunter who worked at Cabela’s in East Grand Forks in the gun department and had never pointed a gun at anyone before.