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Emily Welker, Published April 17 2013

Rape suspect found dead in Fargo had no signs of trauma, police say

FARGO – Police are working to determine what happened to a suspect in a Moorhead rape who was found dead Tuesday in his Fargo home.

Richard Lee Haaland Jr., 46, was set to stand trial in two weeks on charges that he beat up and sexually assaulted a woman in Moorhead last September.

Deputy Chief Pat Claus said Fargo police responded to a call of an unattended death at 1:27 p.m. Tuesday in the 700 block of First Street North, where officers found Haaland in his home.

Claus said the body had no obvious signs of trauma and is undergoing an autopsy with the state medical examiner. He said the death is not being treated as suspicious.

He expects the medical examiner’s office to have the preliminary results of Haaland’s autopsy within a week and toxicology results in four to eight weeks.

Pam Harris, the assistant Clay County attorney prosecuting the case against Haaland, said she has filed a dismissal in the case against Haaland, which was set to go to trial May 2.

Haaland was charged in Clay County District Court of felony first-degree criminal sexual conduct in an alleged attack on a Moorhead woman Sept. 6 that left her with a broken jaw from being punched in the face.

He was accused of raping a stranger in her car in a parking lot in downtown Moorhead. Police say Haaland, who has a prior rape conviction from 1984 in Becker County in Minnesota, was identified by anonymous tips after images from a surveillance video were publicized by police.

Haaland was out on bail after posting a $100,000 bond. Harris had publicly criticized the bail amount as too low and characterized Haaland as a flight risk. She had requested $1 million, saying that a search of Haaland’s home uncovered a bag containing a “substantial” amount of money and a passport Haaland later surrendered as part of his bail conditions.

Harris said in her experience, it isn’t unusual for cases to be dismissed because the defendant has died, either from natural causes or suicide. She said it’s happened in about 20 to 30 of the cases she’s handled as a prosecutor.

Haaland’s defense attorney, Justin Bruntjen, said he last spoke with Haaland on Monday afternoon but could not discuss the context or the content of the discussion. He first received word that Haaland was dead at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Bruntjen said, and had no information regarding the cause of his client’s death.

Bruntjen said he had spoken with Haaland’s family, who were “shocked and heartbroken, as anyone would be,” he said.

The defense attorney said his client didn’t plan to agree to a plea deal.

“He maintained his innocence throughout. He never faltered from that,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541