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Morris Pederson

Morris Pederson is led into a courtroom by a Burleigh County Sheriff Deputy for his preliminary hearing and arraignment on July 15, 2016, in Bismarck. Pederson is accused of murder in the death of Greg Comes on April 5, 2016.

Morris Pederson, 55, pleaded not guilty Friday to murdering Greg Comes, a man he allegedly said was "like a grandfather to him," more than three months ago in an apartment at Patterson Place in Bismarck.

South Central District David Reich scheduled a jury trial for Dec. 12-23.

At the hearing, Detective Jeremy Seeklander testified that the property manager at Patterson Place called 911 to report the 61-year-old resident was dead, lying in blood on the living room floor of his eighth-floor apartment. The Patterson Place, 420 E. Main Ave., is a 117-unit apartment building for low-income and disabled adults.

Prior to Pederson's preliminary hearing, it wasn't clear how Comes died. An autopsy showed Comes died from several stab wounds to the neck and chest, Seeklander said.

Officers found three knives out on the kitchen counter in Comes' apartment. They had remnants of blood on them, but appeared to have been wiped off or cleaned.

“There was just spots of blood on the knives,” Seeklander said.

One of the knives had a fingerprint on it and was sent to the North Dakota Crime Laboratory, but no results have come back.

In addition to the call from the property manager, police also heard from the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department on April 5.

A deputy with the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department told police Pederson came to the Burleigh County Courthouse — where the Sheriff's Department is located — seeking help. Pederson told the deputy he had been at Comes' apartment and that Comes was dead.

The deputy told Pederson to go back to the Patterson and wait for law enforcement. He did, and once officers arrived he was detained and brought to the police department for questioning.

Seeklander and another officer interviewed Pederson, who said he had met Comes at the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House in Bismarck. Pederson said that they were friends and, at one point, referred to Comes as “being like a grandfather to him."

Surveillance footage obtained by police show Pederson and Comes walking into the Patterson around 11 a.m. the day before Comes' body was found. Later that afternoon, Pederson is seen leaving the apartment building.

During cross-examination, Pederson's public defender Travis Finck asked Seeklander whether residents of the Patterson saw anyone else go into Comes' apartment around the time he was murdered.

Residents said there might have been other people coming in and out of the apartment. Seeklander also conceded that multiple types of cigarettes were found in the apartment.

Courthouse surveillance video shows Pederson wearing a white, long-sleeved button-up shirt with a blood stain on the back of it.

When officers detained Pederson at the Patterson, he wasn't wearing the button-up, Seeklander said. Officers later found the shirt folded up and hidden underneath a decorative plant in the Patterson Place, and it was sent to the state lab for analysis. Preliminary lab results confirmed the blood is human, but DNA results are still pending.

Pederson is charged with felony murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.

Prosecutor Julie Lawyer said she hopes any evidence sent to the state lab will be expedited now that a trial has been scheduled.

Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com.

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