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State v. Howard

Supreme Court of North Dakota

October 22, 2013

STATE of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
Leron Lee HOWARD, Defendant and Appellant.

Page 417

Frederick R. Fremgen, State's Attorney, Jamestown, ND, for plaintiff and appellee.

Mark T. Blumer, Fargo, ND, for defendant and appellant.

VANDE WALLE, Chief Justice.

[¶ 1] Leron Howard appealed from a criminal judgment entered after a jury found him guilty of murder and criminal conspiracy. Howard argues the district court erred in directing a multi-county jury panel under N.D.C.C. § 27-09.1-05.1, and in denying his amended motion for change of venue. He also argues there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction. We affirm the judgment.



[¶ 2] In April 2011, the body of Abdi Ali Ahmed was discovered down a muddy embankment along the side of a rural gravel road in Stutsman County, near Jamestown. At trial, Sheriff's Deputy Falk testified, after examining the body at the crime scene, he noticed two apparent stab wounds, one in the victim's abdomen and the other in the victim's rib area. Deputy Falk testified there were also abrasions on the victim's chest and lacerations on the forearms and wrists. State Forensic Examiner Dr. William Massello, who conducted the autopsy, testified he determined Ahmed's cause of death was from a blunt head injury and a stab wound to the abdomen.

[¶ 3] On the night of April 29, 2011, Ahmed was seen socializing with Howard at a bar in Jamestown and later at a house party. In the early morning hours of April 30, Howard and Ahmed left the house party together along with Janelle Cave. Cave drove Howard and Ahmed to her trailer. Soon after arriving, Howard and Ahmed were involved in a physical altercation that took place outside the trailer. Cave and Howard's testimony concerning the fight conflicts substantially.

[¶ 4] Howard testified he observed Ahmed and Cave arguing and " it looked like [Ahmed] was fixing to make an attempt to put his hands on her ... so my first reaction was to hit him, and I hit him." At trial, Howard admitted he struck Ahmed twice in the head. Ahmed fell to the ground and Howard " kicked him a couple times" while Ahmed was down. Howard testified, " I kicked [Ahmed], and then it seemed like he kicked me back, so ... I grabbed him by his legs and I drug him from one side of the street to the other side of the street." After striking Ahmed in the head and dragging him across the pavement, Howard was uncertain whether Ahmed was conscious. He testified Ahmed was mumbling, and he could not understand what he said. Howard then testified he said the following to Ahmed, " ‘ I'm sorry. I'm going to fix this. I'm going to get you some weed,’ ... and

Page 418

then it seemed like he had a lot of trouble getting up, so I helped him up." Howard put Ahmed in the backseat of Cave's car.

[¶ 5] Cave testified she did not have an argument with Ahmed. She testified Howard and Ahmed walked out of the trailer together while she was inside. Shortly thereafter, she went outside and discovered Ahmed laying on the ground " all the way across the street." Cave testified she checked Ahmed's pulse and felt his heartbeat. She tried to wake Ahmed up by nudging him. Cave was uncertain how long Ahmed had been unconscious. Cave testified Howard dragged Ahmed across the street and placed him on the floorboards in the backseat of her car.

[¶ 6] Howard and Cave both testified that Cave drove the three of them to Delmonty Jones's residence to smoke marijuana. It is unclear whether Ahmed was conscious during the drive to Jones's house. The State alleges that prior to leaving for Jones's residence, someone retrieved Cave's decorative sword from her trailer and placed it in the car. Cave testified she did not take the sword out of her house or see Howard do likewise. Howard also testified he did not put the sword in the car or see Cave put the sword in the car.

[¶ 7] Howard and Cave both testified that, after reaching Jones's house, they left Ahmed in the car while they smoked marijuana inside the residence. Howard testified the following dialogue transpired: " ‘ Old boy [Ahmed] out in the car probably want to smoke,’ but [Cave] was like, ‘ Oh, he's not— he ain't even responding. Like, he's not moving or anything.’ " Cave testified Howard told Jones " there was a body in the car." Jones testified Howard brought a sword wrapped in a blanket into the house. Jones then testified Howard told him " I want to put— put a body in your well." Cave testified Howard and Jones joked about what to do with the body and Jones laughed and said, " just put him in the field." Howard and Cave ...

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