UPDATE: Judge sentences former ND police chief to life, then changes his mind
DICKINSON, N.D. -- A former LaMoure police chief convicted of continuous sexual abuse of a child in multiple counties was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole on Tuesday, July 10.
In a last second change of opinion late Thursday afternoon, Judge William Herauf, who presided over the case, issued a letter to counsels citing an oversight in his judgement and sentencing.
According to the letter, Herauf expressed the intent of the court to effectively turn the management of Watson’s cases over to the North Dakota Department of Corrections - without restrictions imposed to when they would be able to release him.
While resentencing has not been formally scheduled, the letter said a hearing will be slated for early next week.
In the case that attracted regional attention, James Watson faced charges of continuous sexual abuse of a child in both Golden Valley and Stark counties, as well as gross sexual imposition in
Hettinger County in southwest North Dakota. Watson’s arrest came while he served as the chief of police for the LaMoure Police Department across the state in southeast North Dakota.
The case, which involved multiple agencies and three separate county attorneys, was contentious as Watson maintained his innocence throughout – claiming he never sexually abused the victim.
Watson’s attorney, Kevin McCabe, argued that the state failed to present a preponderance of
evidence which indicated guilt in his client’s case.
Testimony from the victim and the North Dakota Bureau of Investigation detailed multiple instances of forced sexual intercourse Watson had with the victim in exchange for certain privileges.
“It was a very difficult type of case because of the subject matter,” Christina M. Wenko, Golden Valley County state’s attorney said. “We heard 5 days of difficult testimony and multiple hours of video interviews between the victim and police. The jury made their decision, and our focus is always to do right by the victim.”
Herauf originally ruled Watson’s sentences would run concurrent.
Stark County State’s Attorney Tom Henning explained how, under the original ruling and North Dakota law, Watson would serve no less than 30 years, minus any time accrued for good behavior, before being eligible for parole.
Under the original sentencing, Watson wouldn’t appear before the parole board until 2041 with good behavior. He would be 75 years old.
The reconsideration of sentencing could see Watson released sooner if the North Dakota Department of Corrections feels he is no longer a threat.