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Kyle Potter, Published July 23 2013

Justice elusive for Fargo man killed in 2009

FARGO – Thursday will mark the fourth anniversary of Fargo resident Ronald Hammersmith’s death, and his sister has lost hope that she will ever see her brother’s killer put to trial.

“It probably won’t happen, unfortunately,” Cherry Gannarelli said of the possibility of justice for her 47-year-old brother. “The story, basically, is people’s consciences. Somebody always knows something.”

On July 25, 2009, Fargo police went to Hammersmith’s home after a friend reported Hammersmith had been hit on the head by a man between 20 and 30 years old. His injuries weren’t thought to be life-threatening, but he died in the hospital the following night.

Unlike the eight cold cases on local law enforcement’s books since 1970, Fargo police considers Hammersmith’s death a cleared case because they believe they identified his killer. Citing a lack of evidence that could bring a conviction, Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick declined to prosecute.

Gannarelli chooses her words carefully as she talks about her brother’s death, the ensuing investigation and the prosecutor’s decision not to charge the suspect.

She said the family’s offer in 2011 of a $5,000 reward for information about the night Hammersmith died has generated some new developments but declined to discuss them.

Gannarelli praises law enforcement and the attorneys who handled the case, but she says she also looks at other cases they’ve moved to a trial and thinks: What about my brother?

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said there have been no new developments in their investigation of Hammersmith’s death since they turned the case over to prosecutors in 2010 recommending manslaughter charges against a 20-year-old.

Gannarelli said her family is still offering the reward, which they have debated increasing.

Burdick said his office is still open to information that could lead to a conviction.

“Not always is there forensic evidence, at the end of which is a name and a guilty verdict,” he said. “Sometimes, the final answer is elusive.”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502