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Published April 24, 2012, 12:33 PM

Murder trial in ND severed head case goes to jury

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. (AP) — Prosecutors told jurors Tuesday that they have plenty of evidence to prove a Cooperstown man shot and beheaded a North Dakota State University researcher, but the man's defense attorney said there's no way to prove his client pulled the trigger.

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. (AP) — Prosecutors told jurors Tuesday that they have plenty of evidence to prove a Cooperstown man shot and beheaded a North Dakota State University researcher, but the man's defense attorney said there's no way to prove his client pulled the trigger.

Daniel Wacht, 31, is accused of killing Kurt Johnson in an effort to impress a white supremacist group. Johnson's severed head was found in Wacht's basement after a night of drinking on New Year's Eve 2010. Johnson's body has not been found. Jurors began deliberating the case around noon Tuesday.

Wacht's attorney, Steven Mottinger, noted during closing arguments that there were no eyewitnesses.

"Hint, guess and suspicion are not and can never be enough," Mottinger said.

However, Griggs County prosecutor Marina Spahr told jurors there are "layers of evidence" to prove that Wacht was guilty. Spahr highlighted evidence that included a love seat cushion found in Wacht's garbage that was soaked with Johnson's blood and boots and gloves with Johnson's blood on the outside and Wacht's DNA inside.

"You don't have to see Daniel Wacht pull the trigger to know that he did," Spahr said.

Mottinger also took issue with what prosecutors said was Wacht's motive for the slaying. Mottinger asked the jury why Wacht would "kill a white man" for recognition from a white supremacist outfit.

Mottinger said Wacht is proud of his heritage and his beliefs are his own business. Prosecutors, Mottinger said, did not show that Wacht wanted to do something dramatic because he was starting a local Aryan Nation group.

"If that's so, where is the gang? Where is it?" Mottinger said.

Prosecution witness Jason Bolstad testified last week that Wacht, known as "Machine Gun Head" for a tattoo of the weapon above his right ear, said he was "either going to blow something up or kill someone" to prove the Aryan Nation was in the area.

Mottinger questioned Bolstad's credibility.

"They base their whole theory on a man who admits to multiple felonies, admits his testimony would help him out of his own legal problems," the defense attorney said.

Spahr said earlier in the trial that Johnson was "fall-down drunk" and couldn't stay on his bar stool after drinking at a local bar. His blood-alcohol content was 0.54. After another man helped Johnson out of the bar, Wacht eventually grabbed Johnson by the collar and waist and hoisted him into his van.

Mottinger said Wacht later dropped off Johnson at another bar in town.

He also said authorities did a poor job of handling evidence and complained about cross-contamination. He said investigators did not find a shovel in their original search of Wacht's house.

The defense attorney told jurors it doesn't make sense that Wacht would go to great lengths to hide the body and store the head in his house, or that he would stay in town if he was guilty.

Spahr said Mottinger's contention that someone else was involved in the killing has no basis because all of Wacht's roommates were out of town for several days following the New Year holiday.

"That leaves Daniel Wacht at home, alone, with Kurt Johnson. Who else would pull the trigger?" she asked.

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