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South Central District Judge James Hill has given a public defender until Friday to collect signed waivers of preliminary hearings from a convicted arsonist for charges stemming from his time in jail.

Spencer Norton, 37, was convicted in May of felony arson for starting the fire that heavily damaged his fiancee's home in south Bismarck. While held in the Burleigh-Morton County Detention Center, he has been accused of threatening to harm police officers and failing to register as an offender against children —two charges that came up for preliminary hearing Monday. 

Norton's attorney, Kent Morrow, managed to obtain signed waivers of certain rights from Norton, but Hill said the waivers were missing "operative language" regarding the preliminary hearings — a court procedure where a defendant enters a plea to charges.

Norton refused to be present for Monday's hearing, according to Hill, who has given Morrow until noon Friday to obtain the appropriate, signed waivers from Norton.

If Morrow can't obtain Norton's OKs, Hill said the preliminary hearings will be scheduled for the same date as trial, likely in mid-October. 

The judge also proposed that corrections officers "physically carry" Norton to court, but recanted the idea.

"I don't want to put Mr. Norton in a position where, if he's refusing and has to physically be manhandled and brought here, that's not productive," Hill said. "At the same time, I don't want any officers in that position. He's got to come for trial, and that's when I will force him to come to trial."

Hill also noted that Norton has yet to make initial appearances for the two charges.

Norton is set for a change of plea later in July to a previous charge of felony terrorizing, as well as sentencing in August for arson. He has been held at the Burleigh-Morton County Detention Center since the November house fire.

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

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Crime and Courts Reporter