Updated 10:33 a.m. May 9, 2014: A murder conspiracy case against a Grand Forks attorney that had been downgraded to witness-tampering may soon be dismissed altogether, according to documents the prosecutor filed in state district court Thursday afternoon.
Henry Howe were initially accused of plotting to murder a would-be witness against Lysengen. But Howe’s defense team said an informant providing incriminating evidence against the three has tried to con law enforcement agents before to get a lighter sentence.
The prosecution appeared to concede that point.
Walsh County State’s Attorney Barb Whelan said in her motion to dismiss charges: “The State requests dismissal of this charge based on newly discovered evidence regarding a material witness who was the source of some of the evidence implicating Mr. Howe in this crime.”
“The State concluded that it would be unable to meet the burden of proof necessary for criminal conviction, that is: proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Howe conspired with Paul F. Lysengen and Wesley W. Smith to tamper with a witness,” she said.
Whelan could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon. A news release from her office said Lysengen and Smith still face witness-tampering charges.
“Barb Whelan did the right thing - finally,” defense attorney David Thompson said. “This case should never have commenced in the first case. Henry Howe was completely innocent.”
The judge in the case still must sign Whelan’s motion, but Thompson said he’s confident that will happen today.
Accused con man
The material witness Whelan referred to appears to be Steven Harold Anderson, a man with a long criminal record in North Dakota, Minnesota and other states, according to court records and information provided by the defense team.
The defense said it was Anderson who recorded Howe saying that if the witness against Lysengen were gone, the prosecution’s case would collapse. Anderson claimed that, in earlier conversations, Howe and his co-defendants had discussed killing the witness.
Thompson said police had been “conned” by Anderson, who wanted a lenient sentence for other charges he still faces. But, the attorney said, Anderson has done this before including in Becker County in 2003 and in Nebraska in 2004. “He lied to investigators and they never checked his story out.”
In the 2004 case, investigators caught Anderson 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 Anderson had fled.
Anderson is expected in state district court in Grand Forks today to be sentenced on a theft charge.
Howe is seeking to return to his law practice.
Thompson said he has started the process to get his client’s law license reinstated.
This story has been corrected to indicate Howe's co-defendant still face charges.