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Jury acquits ND man in double murder trial

Lamar Putney, center, hugs his cousin, Danielle Davis, while his wife, Mehvish Ali Putney, looks on moments after he was released from the Williams County Correctional Center. Putney was acquitted of two counts of murder Thursday. He spent nearly 17 months in jail awaiting trial. Jamie Kelly / Williston Herald

WILLISTON, N.D.—After spending more than 500 days in jail, including months in solitary confinement, Lamar Putney walked out of the Williams County Correctional Center in Williston a free man Thursday, Feb. 8, just before 5 p.m.

Putney, 33, was found not guilty of two counts of murder after a nine-day trial and three hours of jury deliberation. He was accused of murder after a May 2016 shooting at his apartment left Diandre Lott and Donzell Washington dead. Putney told police he shot the men in self-defense when they tried to rob him. He was released on the day of the shooting, but arrested four months later, on Sept. 14, 2016.

As Putney left the jail to greet waiting friends and family standing in the snow, members of the jury, who were still in the Williams County Courthouse, waved in congratulations.

Putney said that before the verdict was read he believed he would be acquitted.

"I had complete faith in my prayers," he said. "I had complete faith in the prayers of my family. I had complete faith in my attorneys."

His wife, Mehvish Ali Putney, was among those at the door of the jail to greet him. She said she was grateful the jury looked at the evidence and decided that Putney acted in self-defense.

"I get to take him home," she said. "I'm happy my son gets his dad home."

On the stand Wednesday, Putney testified that protecting his son was one of the reasons he shot Lott and Washington.

Outside the jail Thursday, Putney said his son was foremost in his mind now.

"(I'm) definitely going to spend a lot of time with my son," he said.

Putney's cousin, Danielle Davis, who traveled from Delaware to be in the courtroom throughout the second week of the trial, said her family never had any doubt Putney had acted reasonably. She was relieved and happy when the verdict came back not guilty on both counts.

"It just means everything to have him back," she said.

Defense attorney Jeff Nehring said that as he waited for the verdict to be read, he was nervous, and was happy with the result. He and co-counsel Hernando Perez spent weeks preparing for the trial.

Nehring re-iterated what he told the jury during his closing argument — that the prosecution's evidence didn't really tell the story.

"This was obviously a case of reasonable self-defense," he said.

As the verdict was read, Putney offered little reaction beyond moving his eyes upward. Nehring said he was impressed with the confidence and calmness Putney showed throughout the proceeding.

"Lamar was amazing," he said.

Putney's relief was clear as he left the jail. He said he had been treated well by the correctional staff, but criticized the decision to put him in what the jail referred to as "administrative segregation."

The Williams County State's Attorney's Office claimed Putney had endangered at least one witness by distributing material that was supposed to be kept under seal. Madden made a similar claim last month, asking Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue to hold Putney in contempt.

Sjue eventually decided not to hold him in contempt, but did limit who Putney was allowed to have contact with until the trial was over.

Putney said the claims made by prosecutors didn't have any evidence to back them up.

He said he was glad the jurors followed the evidence and the judge's instructions on the law and was happy for the verdict.

"It just proves anyone can get a fair trial anywhere," he said.

Before he left the jail to be with friends and family, he struck a hopeful tone.

"It's what I had to go through to get me to where I'm going," he said.

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