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Associated Press , Published October 29 2013

Hearing delayed for 1 of 2 brothers in drug case

FARGO — A change of plea hearing for one of two brothers charged in a conspiracy to deal large quantities of methamphetamine into the Fargo area was postponed Tuesday after the defendant asked for more time to think about the deal.

David Cerna told U.S. District Judge Ralph Erickson that he felt pressured to decide on the plea agreement and said he was struggling with the decision. Erickson said he would reschedule the hearing for later in the week.

"This whole ordeal for me has been overwhelming," said Cerna, who paused on several occasions to answer questions from the judge. "Anything I do puts me in harm's way and I don't see a way out."

Cerna and his brother, Juan, are among a dozen people charged in federal court with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance. Juan Cerna appeared in court an hour before his brother and pleaded guilty. He faces life in prison without parole.

The plea agreement for David Cerna recommends a 20-year prison term.

Prosecutors say the conspiracy moved 8 pounds of meth and an unspecified amount of marijuana from Texas to North Dakota and Minnesota. Juan Cerna allegedly collected money for David Cerna to pay for the drugs out of Texas.

David Cerna was hesitant from the start, asking Erickson several questions about the proceedings. Cerna asked the judge to define the term evidence and whether that included circumstantial evidence. Cerna also asked how many "overt acts" the government was required to prove against him.

After Cerna failed to respond when the judge asked him if he was ready to enter a plea, Erickson told the defendant he looked "like a guy who's not quite sure" and ordered a recess so he could talk with defense attorney Mark Friese. But the five-minute discussion with Friese did not yield a plea.

"I'm not trying to play games with anybody," Cerna said. "I'm just having a hard time."

Friese and U.S. Attorney Tim Purdon had no comment on Tuesday's proceedings.

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