FARGO — A man arrested after a fatal shooting over the weekend in Casselton, N.D., will not face criminal charges, with evidence backing statements that he acted in self-defense, Cass County authorities said during a news conference Tuesday, May 12.
William Scott Dittmer Jr., 23, of Casselton was released from custody Tuesday afternoon after the Cass County State’s Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute him.
Dittmer was arrested Friday evening, May 8, on suspicion of murder after fatally shooting 50-year-old Duane Turchin at Harness Mobile Home Court, 51 3rd Ave. N., according to Cass County Sheriff Jesse Jahner.
State’s Attorney Birch Burdick said his office could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dittmer’s actions were unjustified. “Having looked at the evidence we have available, we had concluded that we would not be in a position to disprove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt,” Burdick said.
According to a letter of declination from Burdick’s office:
Dittmer and his pregnant girlfriend drove past Turchin’s mobile home in a pickup that made loud noises with its exhaust system. The loud noises had “been an annoyance to some in the neighborhood.”
It's believed Turchin flashed an obscene gesture with his hand at Dittmer, though Dittmer drove away to avoid a physical confrontation.
Turchin was later seen standing with a drink in his hand in the road near Dittmer’s home and yelled “hit me” as Dittmer drove to his parking spot. After pulling into the driveway, Dittmer, who has a concealed carry permit, drew his 9mm handgun and placed it in his lap. His girlfriend went into the house.
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Turchin approached the pickup, and Dittmer exited the vehicle with his gun in hand, according to the letter. Then Turchin threw his drink at Dittmer, grabbed Dittmer by the throat and squeezed, authorities said.
“During the altercation, Mr. Dittmer stated that he felt in fear of his life and shot Mr. Turchin,” Jahner said.
Dittmer went into his home, called 911 and waited for authorities to arrive, Jahner said. Turchin left the scene of the shooting and was later found lying near his home, the sheriff said.
Turchin was taken to a Fargo hospital, where he died.
Dittmer and Turchin knew each other before the shooting, but the extent of their relationship is unclear. Dittmer’s statements that Turchin was the aggressor were corroborated by other witnesses, Jahner said.
Investigators felt there was enough evidence to arrest Dittmer, who cooperated with officers, Jahner said. “Our office felt that was appropriate under the circumstances,” Burdick said.
Investigators spent the last several days collecting witness statements, audio recordings and other evidence so prosecutors could determine whether charges were warranted, Burdick said.
“When there is an element of self-defense, we also have to disprove the existence of self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt,” Burdick said. “That’s a stiff standard.”
Deadly force is justified when a person who claims he killed another in self-defense acted to protect himself from death, serious bodily injury or the commission of a violent felony, North Dakota law says. That person also must not have the option to retreat.
Burdick noted that Dittmer felt threatened. Turchin presented himself as a challenge and came onto Dittmer’s property, Burdick said. The letter of declination said Turchin’s actions would have legally qualified as aggravated assault.
“Mr. Dittmer was also pinned against his vehicle by Mr. Turchin, and there was no safe avenue to retreat or escape,” the letter said.
Jahner said his thoughts and prayers were with Turchin’s family as they grieve for his death.
The case is still considered open and investigators are still gathering evidence, Jahner said. If new information comes to light, his office would look into it, he added.