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Spencer Norton

Norton

PROVIDED

An arson suspect pleaded not guilty Monday to making jailhouse threats against the police detective who investigated the fire.

Spencer Norton entered his plea to felony terrorizing before South Central District Judge John Grinsteiner and will be tried at separate trials for felony arson and terrorizing in May. 

At Monday's preliminary hearing, Bismarck Police Detective Tyler Welk described the nature of Norton's alleged threats made during visitations between Norton and his fiancee, Yvette Howell, who owned the fire-damaged home in south Bismarck.

Norton allegedly threatened to beat or shoot Bismarck Police Detective Jon Lahr or harm his family for investigating the fire and arresting him.

Welk said Norton's comments were not done to blow off steam, but rather, he knew jail staff were listening when he allegedly made the threats in December.

"There were numerous visitations where this occurred, first and foremost," Welk said. "Second of all ... he knows they're listening; therefore, he's intending them to be threatening toward Detective Lahr.

"It's actually made jail staff nervous enough and to the point where they have contacted Detective Lahr to inform him that these jail calls are occurring, these visitations."

Welk also noted Norton's criminal history, including convictions or judgments for abduction of a child, kidnapping, burglary and bank robbery.

Welk added that in one visitation, Norton said he was "happy and was celebrating" the shooting of a law enforcement officer in another state. 

Norton nodded and bounced his head as Welk detailed the alleged threats. He also indicated to Grinsteiner that he desires a speedy trial.

Before leaving the Burleigh County courtroom, Norton made a small movement as if swinging a baseball bat and made a popping noise.

Last week as part of a plea agreement, Howell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor tampering with physical evidence related to cellphone evidence from the night of the fire.

Her home at 1448 S. Third St. in Bismarck burned in early November from a fire reportedly started in the garage.

Norton is held at the Burleigh-Morton County Detention Center.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Crime and Courts Reporter