Updated 4:46 p.m. April 28, 2014: A Grand Forks defense attorney accused of conspiring to murder a police informant now faces much lesser charges, according to records provided by his defense team.
Henry Howe, 72, is charged with conspiring to tamper with a witness, as are his co-defendants, Wesley Wayne Smith and Howe’s client Paul Francis Lysengen. The murder conspiracy charges have been dropped for all.
Howe’s attorney, David Thompson of Grand Forks, said it was because the source of the information used to incriminate Howe and the other two has a long history of lying to police.
Walsh County prosecutor Barbara Whelan didn’t return a call for comment. But Thompson provided the Herald with the amended charges against Howe.
Conspiring to commit murder is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison without parole while conspiring to tamper with a witness is punishable by a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Howe’s license to practice law has been suspended since Jan. 31, the day after the original criminal complaint against him was filed.
Lysengen, 62, Minto, N.D., was charged with drug dealing. Police originally accused Howe, Lysengen and Smith, 57, St. Thomas, N.D., of plotting to kill a female informant who would serve as a key witness against Lysengen.
They did so based on what they were told by a male informant who was staying with Lysengen at the time and based on secret recordings the informant made of conversations between Howe and his clients.
According to an affidavit of probable cause, Howe could be heard in one recording discussing with Lysengen how the prosecution’s case would collapse if the female informant were gone, but she would have to be gone five days before the trial to avoid suspicion.
Two weeks ago, a photo of the male informant was seen behind a glass door at Howe’s law office in downtown Grand Forks, with the words “snitch,” “con artist” and “liar” written by hand on it. Along with the photo was a notice to Howe’s other clients claiming that Howe was a victim of a “witch hunt” orchestrated by the prosecutor, the judge in the case and local drug agents.
Howe did not deny putting up the photo, his attorney said.
It has since been removed.
In discussing Howe’s case, Thompson confirmed that the photo was of the male informant. The Herald is choosing not to identity him because his name was made available to the defense through evidence discovery and is not public record.
The Grand Forks Regional Narcotics Task Force, for whom the informant worked, could not be reached because the information came to light after work hours.
Thompson said the male informant has made several false reports. “We had to do the vetting of this guy that should have been done before they attempted to ruin the career and life of a lawyer who was doing his job.”
Thompson noted one case in 2003 in Becker County in which the prosecutor told a state investigator that the evidence provided by the male informant was not sufficient to bring criminal charges. The informant, the prosecutor said in a letter, “appears to have lead and/or dominated the conversations and seemingly forced the initiation of relevant conversations” with two men the informant alleged were conspiring to commit murder.
In a 2004 case in Nebraska, investigators caught the male informant in several lies while he was trying to convince them that a fellow inmate was trying to hire someone to kill the inmate’s wife. By the time they figured it out, the male informant had fled.
The male informant himself also has 27 criminal cases on his record in Minnesota and North Dakota ranging from bounced checks to forgery and theft. Two cases are still open in North Dakota.
“The man has a career of deception,” Thompson said.
“When you decide to get into bed with this guy who comes to you with a bizarre tale that is completely untrue and is something he has done before on multiple occasions, why do you believe this guy, based on the record he has of deception, of theft?” Thompson said.
This story has been corrected. A charge Smith faced was incorrect.