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Kyle Potter, Published September 17 2013

Fargo man pleads guilty to killing his wife

FARGO – With his murder trial less than a week away, the Fargo man accused of shooting his wife in the head and calling police to say she committed suicide pleaded guilty Tuesday.

Ronald William Rogers Jr. was charged with a Class AA felony murder – the most serious charge in North Dakota law – for the Feb. 19 killing of his wife, Elizabeth Rogers, in their home at 3522 30th Ave. S.

In pleading guilty to the murder charge, Rogers will forego his trial, which was set to begin in Cass County District Court on Monday. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of willful disturbance of a body for tampering with his wife’s body to make it look like she had committed suicide.

Rogers will be sentenced in the next month or two after a presentence investigation is completed. He could face life in prison without parole.

He is being held on $1 million bail.

Asked what had changed since his client initially pleaded not guilty, defense attorney Ross Brandborg said: “Negotiations.”

Part of Rogers’ plea reversal allows him to appeal several of Judge Lisa Fair McEvers decisions to allow contested evidence, including a police interview of Rogers while he was a patient at Prairie St. John’s psychiatric hospital in which he admitted to shooting his wife in the head.

Brandborg tried unsuccessfully to have that interview thrown out, arguing that Rogers was effectively in custody during the police interview but hadn’t been given the Miranda warning required prior to questioning a suspect held against his or her will.

If an appeal is successful, Brandborg said it could result in a new trial or possibly change his client’s eventual sentence.

“You could be looking at anything. It’s really too early to tell,” he said.

An appeal of the judge’s decisions likely wouldn’t be filed until after Rogers’ sentencing, Brandborg said.

Rogers marched into the courtroom Tuesday in shackles and a blaze orange jumpsuit, with a pair of glasses resting on his forehead. He stared at the ground and answered the judge with either a “yes” or a “no” before twice saying “guilty,” changing his plea.

Rogers called 911 at 10:15 p.m. on Feb. 19, and told police his wife had shot herself in the head after a dispute.

Investigators didn’t consider him a suspect in her death until the autopsy showed the bullet entered through the left side of her head, prosecutors said in pretrial motions. Rogers initially told police she had fired the gun using her right hand.

He admitted to shooting her when police confronted him with the autopsy results while he was at Prairie St. John’s, according to court documents.

Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek would not speculate on how long a sentence Rogers may face.

“We want to make sure that happens in court,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502