BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota Supreme Court has reversed the convictions of a second man convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in a Beulah shooting.
A jury in June 2012 found Borner, of Stanton, and Whitman, of Hazen, guilty of two counts each of conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting death of Michael Padilla and the shooting of Timothy Padilla.
Borner, 26, and Whitman, 31, were accused of entering a Beulah apartment on Jan. 31, 2012, with loaded weapons in an attempt to steal drugs. In an ensuing struggle, Michael Padilla was killed and Timothy Padilla was injured.
The state Supreme Court on Aug. 29 reversed Borner's convictions. In the split decision, three of the five justices ruled that the language used in charging documents in the case was improper. The court reversed Whitman's convictions on the same logic that they reversed Borner's.
As in Borner's case, the court ruled that Whitman can be prosecuted again. Borner has been charged with seven Class C felony charges — terrorizing, aggravated assault and five counts of reckless endangerment.
Under North Dakota law, people can be found guilty of murder if they are found to have caused the death of another person under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life. The charges against Borner and Whitman accused them of agreeing "with one another to knowingly engage in or cause circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life."
However, the Supreme Court ruled that someone cannot conspire to commit extreme indifference murder.
Whitman did not make the same arguments as Borner on appeal regarding whether the charges for which he was convicted were proper. However, the justices, in a 4-1 decision, ruled that they had the authority to consider the co-defendant's outcome in deciding Whitman's case.
"Just as Borner was prejudiced, we conclude Whitman was prejudiced by this error. To deny Whitman the relief granted his co-defendant would seriously affects the fairness, integrity and public reputation of the criminal jury trial," Justice Mary Muehlen Maring wrote in the majority opinion.
The justices also ruled that Whitman's rights against self incrimination were not violated when he was questioned by investigators in the case.
Justice Dale Sandstrom dissented, as he did in Borner's case. Sandstrom wrote that the issue was not clearly defined in North Dakota law and had not been decided previously by North Dakota courts. Sandstrom voted to uphold Whitman's conviction.