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Published April 17, 2012, 10:16 PM

Wacht murder trial underway in Cooperstown

Cooperstown, ND (WDAY TV) - The first murder trial in Griggs County in 83 years is underway. Prosecutors say a man accused of killing an NDSU researcher told witnesses he wanted to make a statement by blowing something up or killing someone.

The first murder trial in Griggs County in 83 years is underway. Prosecutors say a man accused of killing an NDSU researcher told witnesses he wanted to make a statement by blowing something up or killing someone.

In its opening statements, the prosecution says the 31 year-old Cooperstown man told a witness he wanted to start a local white supremacy gang and needed to make a statement. Days later, the prosecution says Daniel Wacht killed and then beheaded Kurt Johnson.

The prosecution says Daniel Wacht walked in the Oasis Bar around 8 or 9 the night of New Year’s Eve 2010. He then began talking and drinking with the 54 year-old Johnson. The prosecution says doctors will testify Johnson was "fell down drunk,” with a Blood Alcohol Content of .54 - almost 7 times the legal limit. Wacht admits to giving Johnson a ride home but is pleading not guilty to the man’s murder.

Johnson's head was found in a crawl space in Wacht's rented home. His body has not been recovered. In its opening statement, the defense said the evidence is not as clear cut as the prosecution wants the jurors to believe.

The prosecution says it will present several pieces of DNA evidence linking Wacht to the crime, including a blood soaked cushion found in Wacht's garbage, and boots and gloves that have Johnson's blood on the outside and Wacht's DNA on the inside.

Fargo Defense Attorney Steve Mottinger, seen here leaving the courthouse, told jurors it's not their job to provide closure for the family. He warned jurors against jumping to conclusions.

The jury pool was whittled down from 90 to include 8 men and 6 women with 2 alternates. Four witnesses were called, all law enforcement officials to enter photographic evidence. The prosecution is expected to call more witnesses tomorrow morning when the trial resumes at 9.

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