BISMARCK-With his client doomed to spend his remaining days behind bars for two grisly murders in Fargo, Ashley Hunter's attorney argued he didn't receive a fair trial and appealed his conviction to the North Dakota Supreme Court Wednesday, April 11.
A jury last year found Hunter guilty of murdering Clarence Flowers and Samuel Traut in June 2015, the former by repeated stabbings and the latter via hammer blows to the head. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders and 10 years in prison for arson.
But Hunter's attorney, Samuel Gereszek, argued in court briefs his conviction should be vacated or sent back to the lower court for a new trial. Justices heard arguments in the court's chambers at the Capitol and took the case under advisement.
Most of Wednesday's hearing focused on whether police gave Hunter the Miranda warnings notifying him of his constitutional rights against self-incrimination and to counsel. The district court judge rejected the defense's motion to suppress his statement to law enforcement, but Gereszek argued the state lacked evidence to show he was given the warnings.
Gereszek's brief said Hunter was questioned "at length while suffering from extreme exhaustion and serious mental impairment" caused by methamphetamine use. Much of the state's case during last year's trial rested on Hunter's statement to police in which he essentially confessed to the murders.
Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick argued there's no requirement that Miranda warnings be videotaped or to "have somebody else watch you" in North Dakota.
"In the end, the judge has to make a determination" about an officer's credibility, he said.
Police have said Hunter killed Flowers for "stealing all his girlfriends, overcharging for drugs and always showing Hunter disrespect." Hours later, Hunter knocked on Traut's door and asked for a glass of water before worrying that Traut recognized him from media coverage of Flowers' murder, killing him and setting fire to his apartment to cover it up, according to court documents.
Gereszek's brief also said the judge wrongly allowed testimony of a nurse who said Hunter confessed to killing a man during an emergency room evaluation. Burdick said allowing the testimony "was not an abuse of discretion."
Hunter was not present during Wednesday's arguments. He's imprisoned just across town at the North Dakota State Penitentiary.