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News Briefs: Fergus Falls jury rejects wrongful death suit in murder-suicide

Editor's note: The following is a collection of news briefs from Forum Communication Company newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota.


Jury rejects wrongful death suit in murder-suicide

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. -- An Otter Tail County jury has rejected a family’s claims in a wrongful death suit filed after a murder-suicide three years ago.

In March 2011, Tabitha Belmonte, 16, was shot and killed at the Cox family’s Amor home by Dylan Cox, 17, who then turned the gun on himself.

Belmonte’s mother, Bobbi Teeple of Dent, and eight other family members had asked for a total of $5 million from the Cox family.

After a three-day trial in Otter Tail County District Court, the jury on Jan. 29 rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims.

Teeple and the other plaintiffs had alleged that Dylan’s parents, Darrin and Catherine Cox, kept several firearms in their home and created an unsafe environment for the young couple, who were living there with their infant daughter, Emma.

The jury determined that the shooting was “unintentional by reason of mental illness or defect” on the part of Dylan Cox, according to court records.

The jury also took notice that several plaintiffs did not fit within the legal definition of “next of kin,” since Tabitha Belmonte was never legally adopted by Steven L. Teeple Sr., Bobbi Teeple’s husband.

Man found dead on snowbank

CHISHOLM, Minn. -- A man was found dead on a snowbank in Chisholm early Wednesday morning. The Chisholm Police Department said it doesn’t expect foul play in the death.

Police received a call at 7:20 a.m. about a body in a driveway on the 300 block of Sixth Avenue Southwest.

“It appeared the man had fallen,” the department said in a statement. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

The man’s name is not being released pending notification of relatives.

Bemidji man charged with sex assault after Super Bowl party

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- A Bemidji man has been charged with sexually assaulting a woman after a Super Bowl party.

Police responded Monday to the Sanford emergency room after a woman reported that she had been assaulted Sunday.

David Earl Neumann, 23, was arrested Monday on a charge of third-degree criminal sexual conduct against a mentally impaired or helpless victim.

According to court documents, Neumann should have known his victim was mentally impaired, mentally incompetent or physically helpless. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.

According to a criminal complaint, the woman told police she was trying to sleep and Neumann kept lying next to her even when she moved to a different location. She told police Neumann always carries a knife and she “stayed quiet, and pretended to be sleeping while Neumann sexually assaulted her because she was scared,” the complaint said.

Neumann told authorities he had been drinking before the game and “blacked out on the couch,” according to court documents. He also denied having sex with anyone.

Neumann was scheduled to appear Wednesday in Beltrami County Court.

Morris principal pleads not guilty in sex assault case

MORRIS, Minn. -- A high school principal accused of sexually assaulting a woman pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Stevens County District Court

Morris Area High School Principal Craig Peterson, 36, is charged with two counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct after allegedly assaulting an acquaintance at his Morris home in December.

Peterson has been on paid administrative leave since Dec. 23.

According to the criminal complaint, the 30-year-old woman met with Peterson for drinks Dec. 21 and they later headed to his house. She told police she either fell asleep or blacked out while Peterson was driving there.

The complaint says the woman recalled waking up naked in his bed with Peterson on top of her, having sex with her. The woman told police she pushed at Peterson’s chest, told him it hurt and asked him to stop. She told police Peterson forced her to have sex again and perform oral sex on him.

According to the complaint, Peterson took the woman back to her vehicle about 12:30 a.m. Dec. 22.

In a statement to police, Peterson confirmed they had sex but could not recall any conversations during sex and denied she pushed at his chest. He also denied the woman was tired or seemed intoxicated.

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for March 19.

Moorhead man gets four months in jail for Coach’s arson

MOORHEAD, Minn. – A Moorhead man plans to fight a restitution request from the owner of the former Coach’s bar after pleading guilty to setting the building on fire last summer.

Jeffrey Joseph Little, 29, was sentenced Wednesday in Clay County District Court to four months in jail on a single count of felony second-degree arson, avoiding a possible prison term.

A count of first-degree arson was dropped as part of his plea deal.

His attorney, Joe Parise, said Little will be allowed to serve his jail time on work release.

Little has significant family responsibilities, Parise said, including being the primary custodian of his children, one of whom has special needs.

A Clay County prosecutor said Little plans to contest a restitution request from the owner of the bar, which had been long out of business at the time of the July 8 fire.

At a previous hearing, prosecutors said restitution for damages to the building could surpass $100,000.

Parise said at the time it would be unfair to expect Little to restore the long-unused bar to its prior condition.

Judge Michelle Lawson also sentenced Little to 10 years supervised probation and a $1,000 fine.

Minnesota high court affirms most convictions in deputy’s killing

ST. PAUL -- A man serving life in prison for the murder of a Mahnomen County deputy won’t be going free anytime soon, after the Minnesota Supreme Court largely upheld multiple convictions in the case.

A jury found Thomas Lee Fairbanks guilty of first-degree murder of a peace officer, failure to render aid to a shooting victim, four counts of first-degree assault, two counts of second-degree assault, being a felon in possession of a firearm and attempted theft of a motor vehicle in the shooting death of Mahnomen County Deputy Christopher Lee Dewey.

On Feb. 18, 2009, after a night of drinking and taking drugs, Fairbanks shot Dewey without provocation after encountering him outside a residence in the city of Mahnomen, severely injuring him with shots to the head and abdomen. He died about 18 months later.

Fairbanks’ appeal challenged some evidence and the change of venue to Polk County.

The Supreme Court overturned only one first-degree assault conviction, ruling that it couldn’t be determined whether Fairbanks had fired shots at a group of officers to the east of the house where he was holed up during a standoff.

Fairbanks is serving life in prison without the possibility of release.


Herman Stern to receive Rough Rider Award posthumously

BISMARCK – Businessman Herman Stern will be the 40th recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, North Dakota's highest commendation for its citizens, Gov. Jack Dalrymple announced Wednesday.

Dalrymple will officially present Stern’s family with the award during a March 13 event in Fargo. Stern died in 1980.

Stern was born in Germany in 1887, the youngest of eight children. He came to America at age 16 to work at the Straus Clothing Store in Casselton, a clothing store established by his cousin, Morris Straus. In 1907, Stern became manager of the store when a second store opened in Valley City.

Three years later, Stern became manager of the Valley City store and remained there for the next 70 years. In addition to Casselton and Valley City, the company operated stores in LaMoure, Carrington, Grand Forks, Jamestown and Devils Lake.

Today, after more than 130 years of operation, Straus Clothing has a store in Fargo with a third generation of Stern family members running the business.

In addition to his business contributions, Stern also was active in community and statewide organizations and initiatives, establishing programs that were pivotal in North Dakota’s progress.

Woman found dead in mobile home with no propane

FORT YATES, N.D. – Authorities believe hypothermia caused the death of a woman found dead Tuesday morning in a mobile home with no propane in its tank on the Standing Rock Reservation.

A propane shortage recently prompted an emergency declaration on the reservation.

An autopsy was being performed Wednesday on Debbie Dog Skin, who was in her 50s, Sioux County Sheriff Frank Landeis said.

Dog Skin’s adult son, who lived with her in the mobile home in Sioux Village on the outskirts of Fort Yates, called the ambulance service about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday after finding his mother unresponsive, Landeis said.

When the ambulance crew arrived, the temperature inside the mobile home was about the same as the temperature outside, 1 degree below zero, Landeis said.

A portable heater in the home wasn’t working, he said.

A national propane shortage that has caused prices to spike prompted the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe last week to declare a state of emergency on the reservation, where nearly 90 percent of residents rely on propane for heat, KFYR-TV reported.

The tribe has opened shelters in Fort Yates and Wakpala, S.D., for residents without adequate heat.