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Emily Welker, Published November 18 2013

Fargo man gets 10 years for attack with sword, table leg

FARGO – A Fargo man who represented himself at trial earlier this year was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison on an attempted murder conviction.

A Cass County District Court judge rejected Damon John White Bird’s claim that he wasn’t competent to represent himself on the charges linked to an April 2 incident in which he locked two men in his Fargo apartment and attacked them with a sword and a table leg.

Judge Wickham Corwin said in court that he was denying White Bird’s motion because he grasped the mechanics of legal procedures such as jury selection. Corwin also cited the intelligence of White Bird and the results of a June 6 psychological examination.

Cass County prosecutor Tristan Van de Streek asked the judge to sentence White Bird to 20 years on one count of Class A felony attempted murder, plus 5 years supervised probation on that and four other accompanying charges – two counts of felonious restraint and one count each of aggravated assault and evidence tampering.

Van de Streek told Corwin that one of the victims in the attack spent 27 days in the hospital and had to have part of his skull replaced with titanium mesh.

The prosecutor said in court that while his recommendation was harsh, White Bird had his sympathy because he had been in and out of institutions from an early age. But he feared that the 23-year-old lacked empathy for others because of his experiences.

“I’ve heard it said by someone wiser than me that prison isn’t for people we’re mad at, it’s for people we’re scared of,” he said. “Mr. White Bird is someone we should be scared of.”

White Bird claimed in court that his constitutional rights were violated, and that he had already filed an appeal, although he hadn’t received record of it yet from the court “because you were suspended for two months without pay.”

“That’s not accurate,” the judge replied.

A hearing panel of the North Dakota Judicial Conduct Commission recommended in October that the judge face two months unpaid suspension for sexually harassing his then-court reporter. The matter is still pending.

When Corwin asked White Bird for his sentencing recommendation, White Bird responded, “Let’s just get this done so I don’t have to look at you or none of you guys.”

Corwin said he had advised White Bird at several turns to take advantage of a court-appointed defense attorney rather than to represent himself.

“I don’t feel good about your background,” said Corwin. But the judge added that there was little he could do about it at the sentencing.

Corwin began to give White Bird instructions on how he could file an appeal on his own behalf, but White Bird interrupted him mid-instruction.

“It’s your choice, it’s your life,” Corwin said. “It’s your rights.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541