FARGO — The number of criminal homicides committed in North Dakota in 2019 could be the highest in four decades.
Since 1978, the highest number of criminal homicides reported in a single year in the state was 22, a number reached in both 1993 and 2015.
A Forum of Fargo-Moorhead analysis of homicides reported in North Dakota so far this year suggests the number could exceed 22, possibly reaching as many as 26. However, official figures won't be known until the new year.
Only criminal homicides are included in the annual state tally. They are defined by the U.S. Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reporting program as the willful (non-negligent) killing of one person by another, including cases of murder and non-negligent manslaughter.
With the exception of murder, however, what cases qualify as criminal homicides is not always clear, since cases that result in charges of manslaughter or negligent homicide are sometimes counted in the annual homicide total and sometimes not.
In late June, North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said 17 homicides had been reported in the state as of that point in 2019.
Numbers for North Dakota at this point in 2019 were not available from Stenehjem's office, which said statewide compiled data for 2019 will not be available until after the required reporting date for local law enforcement agencies, which is April of next year.
Since late June, when Stenehjem confirmed 17 homicides had been reported across North Dakota, at least five murder cases have been filed in district courts across the state, which would appear to bring the homicide total to at least 22 so far this year, tying the highest number since 1978. (Records prior to 1978 were not available on the state attorney general's website.)
In addition, since the end of June two crash deaths occurred in the state that resulted in charges of negligent homicide and according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol those two cases will likely be reflected in the annual statewide homicide tally.
If so, the state's homicide total this year could be at least 24.
And it may not stop there.
Wahpeton police said a death resulting from a recent fight there is expected to be counted toward the state's annual homicide tally as well, which could conceivably bring the total this year to at least 25.
Also, a shooting death in Williston in November that involved a juvenile defendant will likely be added to the annual homicide tally as well. If so, it could push the state total in 2019 to at least 26.
When it comes to homicides, it has been an unusual year for the city of Wahpeton, according to Wahpeton Police Chief Scott Thorsteinson, who said that during his approximately four decades with the police department criminal homicides have been largely nonexistent.
But this year, he said, he got two.
The cases include the March stabbing death of Billy Joe Phillips and the death in late November of Oscar Bynaum.
According to court records, Bynaum died after he was involved in a fight with his uncle, James Bynaum, who is charged with negligent homicide.
Adam Christopher Awender faces one count of murder in the death of Phillips.
North Dakota's 2019 homicides include five that occurred in Fargo, according to police.
Two of the five cases did not result in charges being filed, including the death of Lois Ham, who authorities said was killed by her husband, John Ham, in a murder-suicide.
The other case without charges was the death of Donard Thue, a resident of a Fargo memory care unit who died after a scuffle with another resident. Authorities determined neither man was in a culpable state of mind during the confrontation.
In another Fargo case, Jay Halvorson, the owner of a food truck, died from gunshot wounds after what authorities say was a confrontation between Halvorson and two men near Halvorson's food truck. In that case, Kareem Lee Byrd and Charles Edward Harris III each face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
Other Fargo homicides this year include the deaths of Denise Anderson and Duane Darling.
Anderson was found dead in an apartment in north Fargo on Aug. 1, after emergency crews responded to a fire. She had numerous injuries that were not consistent with a fire — including a broken wrist and facial injuries, according to court documents.
Anderson's ex-boyfriend, Sheldon Davis, who was renting the apartment, was charged in August with murder and one felony count each of arson and endangering by fire or explosion.
In the case of Darling, Fargo's most recent reported homicide, Darrell Clinton Peterson faces a charge of murder.
Darling died after a beating Nov. 13 at Pioneer Manor, 201 11th St. N., according to court records. Fargo police said Darling and Peterson knew each other and that the crime did not appear to be random.
Darling’s neighbors said Peterson did not live in Pioneer Manor and started visiting Darling a few days before the assault.
While Fargo has five confirmed homicides so far in 2019, there were six homicides reported in Fargo in 2018, the most the city had recorded since 1985, according to police and FBI records.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd has said the number of homicides reported in Fargo has historically been about two or three a year.
Besides Fargo, another community reporting multiple homicides in 2019 is Williston, where at least four adults face murder charges in separate cases, all in Williams County District Court.
Also, Williston police have said a 17-year-old is accused of killing a man and critically injuring another in a shooting in early November. Because the matter is being handled in juvenile court it is unclear what charges the suspect may be facing.
However, Williston police said the homicide will likely be reflected in the state's annual total.
In Morton County, one person, Chad Isaak, faces four counts of murder in connection with the deaths of four people at a Mandan business in April.
Domestic violence often plays a role in homicides reported in North Dakota, according to the state attorney general's office. Of the 17 homicides reported in 2018 in North Dakota, 12 were connected to domestic violence.