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Published January 21, 2014, 01:17 PM

After felony conviction overturned, man who shot at roommate gets deal, freedom

Grand Forks, ND - To avoid a new trial on a charge he endangered his roommate’s life by firing a rifle toward him in December 2011, Travis Samshal pleaded guilty today to a lesser charge and walked out of court a free man after a year in custody.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service, Grand Forks Herald, Forum News Service

Grand Forks, ND - To avoid a new trial on a charge he endangered his roommate’s life by firing a rifle toward him in December 2011, Travis Samshal pleaded guilty today to a lesser charge and walked out of court a free man after a year in custody.

His case is a rare one in North Dakota of a felony conviction overturned by the state Supreme Court, said his attorneys. He’s actually been free since early November after the North Dakota Supreme Court threw out his 2012 conviction

A jury convicted Samshal, now 28, in November 2012 of felony reckless endangerment, while acquitting him of attempted murder in state district court in Grand Forks.

At his 2012 trial, Samshal testified he shot his hunting rifle toward his roommate, Leo Franco, in their apartment after a night of drinking together because he fearing Franco was coming at him to hurt him.

The two previously had fought and Samshal said Franco bullied him. Franco testified he was trying to be a good friend to Samshal and console him when he was depressed.

The 7 mm bullet passed within a few inches of Franco’s head and shoulder, according to trial testimony. Samshal testified he deliberately aimed to miss.

State District Judge Debbie Kleven sentenced Samshal to five years in prison with all but 32 months suspended. He served time in the state prison in Bismarck while appealing his conviction.

In October 2013 the state Supreme Court reversed his conviction, saying Kleven improperly excluded Samshal’s testimony about statements he said Franco made threatening him, as part of his defense that he fired the rifle in fear of his own safety. The Supreme Court also ruled Kleven failed to properly instruct the jury on the legal use of deadly force in self-defense.

Adam Fleischman, who represented Samshal Tuesday in court, said such outright reversals of a felony conviction by the state supreme court are rare.

According to statistics and reports from the Supreme Court, few district court dispositions in criminal cases appealed each year to the higher court are reversed each year — 5 percent in 2012, for example. And even fewer of those reversals — none in some years — involve actually overturning a felony conviction.

Samshal had been living in a halfway house in Fargo when the Supreme Court decision was released Oct. 22, and he soon was freed, pending a new trial if prosecutors decided to re-charge him. Fleischman said such a conviction reversal is so unusual it took officials a few days to figure out what to do with Samshal before releasing him.

Jason McCarthy, assistant state’s attorney for Grand Forks County, did recharge Samshal. But both sides agreed to a plea deal in which Samshal pleaded guilty Tuesday to a Class A misdemeanor charge of reckless endangerment. Kleven sentenced him, per the agreement, to the 364 days he already had served and he walked out of the courtroom, “ready to get back my life,” he said.

He’s living and working in Fargo and has had his hunting guns returned to him now that he no longer is a felon.

“In fact I’m going hunting this week,” he said. “Coyotes.”

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