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Bryan Horwath, The Dickinson Press, Published May 07 2013

IA man pleads not guilty to attempted murder in western ND

DICKINSON - With his two sons at Southwest Multi-County Correction Center awaiting paperwork for their release, Robert York pleaded not guilty Monday on a charge of attempted murder stemming from a New Year’s Eve altercation in Gladstone.

During back-to-back preliminary hearings at the Stark County Courthouse, Rusty Shields, 24, and his brother Ryan Shields, 23, signed plea agreements sentencing each to two years of unsupervised probation for once count each of Class A misdemeanor assault, a drop from the original charges the pair received of felony attempted murder.

Following the Shields’ joint hearing, York — wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and shackled — sat before Southwest District Judge Zane Anderson to learn his case would be bound over following Anderson’s opinion that Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning presented enough evidence for the state to proceed with its case against York.

According to the criminal complaint: York pointed a sawed-off shotgun at the face of Justin Willis during a drunken bar room scuffle that spilled outside the Enchanted Hideaway Bar in Gladstone late on Dec. 31. The state alleges Willis was dragged out of the bar by one or both of the Shields brothers before the shotgun was fired.

Both Shields brothers offered up an Alford plea — which does not admit guilt, but does acknowledge that enough evidence exists for likely proving of a charge — and agreed to move back to their court-listed home state of Iowa. Along with agreeing to provide the court with “truthful testimony” about incident if required during future hearings, the pair are also prohibited from consuming alcohol — described by both the defense and the state as a factor in the alleged crimes — under their probation terms.

The brothers were allowed for immediate release pending finished paperwork, but, as of 6 p.m. Monday evening, were still incarcerated at the SMCCC, according to a jail employee. All three had been detained at the Dickinson jail since their capture and arrest shortly after the Gladstone incident. The three had been doing concrete in the area before being laid off sometime before the incident, according to court records.

During York’s hearing, current Dickinson Police Department and former Stark County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Terry Oestreich testified that he got a call early New Year’s Day morning about a shots fired incident in Gladstone. Oestreich said a bartender on duty New Year’s Eve night at the Enchanted Hideaway Bar told him during his investigation that the Shields brothers were kicked out of the bar before Willis was grabbed Rusty Shields and taken forcibly out of the bar.

Oestreich told the court that York produced a 20-guage shotgun shortly after Willis was removed from the bar, pointing the weapon directly at Willis.

“(The gun) was approximately six-to-eight feet away (from Willis),” Oestreich said. “One round was fired and it struck very near (Willis’) face. The side of his face was burned and there appeared to be a pellet mark in his eyebrow.”

Before asking for a dismissal of the charge against York, public defender Kevin McCabe lamented the fact that his client was being charged with attempted murder despite the fact that there were no witnesses that saw York fire the gun, according to court documents. McCabe also argued that the state produced to record of Willis having been medically treated for his alleged burn wound from the gun going off.

Oestreich testified that the Shields brothers and York were apprehended while traveling on Highway 10 sometime after the incident and a sawed-off shotgun was later found in a ditch along the Highway 10 near 97th Avenue in Stark County.

“The testimony is that several persons saw (York) in possession of this shotgun,” Henning told the court. “Mr. Willis himself has indicated that the defendant is the one who discharged the gun.”

In his decision ruling that probable cause for the case to move forward had been established, Anderson also noted “weaknesses” in the state’s case against York. Under the North Dakota Century Code, a Felony A charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment, a $10,000 penalty or both.