Judge temporarily rejects plea deal for elected Walsh County commissioner charged with vehicular homicide
The judge wants to know why prosecutors want to drop the charge that carried a penalty of 20 years in prison, and sentence him to 30 days of home confinement.
GRAFTON, N.D. — A Grafton man accused of driving under the influence, crashing and causing the death of an agriculture association treasurer appeared in court on Friday, May 5. During the hearing, the judge refused to amend the man’s felony charge to a misdemeanor.
Christopher R. Thompson, 46, was charged with Class A felony DUI vehicular homicide and Class C felony DUI crash involving injury in November, but the second charge was dismissed in January.
On April 27, a proposed plea agreement was filed in the case. The agreement would amend Thompson’s Class A felony DUI vehicular homicide charge to Class A misdemeanor reckless endangerment. Thompson agreed to plead guilty to the amended charge through an Alford plea.
However, during the hearing, Judge Kari Agotness pointed out that no motion had been filed to amend the charge.
“There’s nothing telling the court why the state feels it’s appropriate to go from an A felony charge to an A misdemeanor charge,” Agotness said.
Thompson’s attorney, Mark Friese, asked if an oral motion could be delivered during the hearing instead.
“No, I won’t take an oral motion,” said Agotness. “... Part of my obligation as a district court trial judge is not to rubber stamp any agreement. Part of my obligation is to look at reasons why agreements are proposed to the court, and whether or not (there’s) an administration of justice.”
The state has 14 days to file a motion and, after that, the defense will file a response. Then the case will return to court, but the date hasn’t been set.
"The facts will be abundantly clear why this plea agreement was reached once those documents are filed with the court," explained Friese who declined to comment on why the plea deal was reached.
According to an affidavit in the case, Thompson was involved in a single-vehicle crash on Walsh County Road 9, about five miles east of Edinburg, on Nov. 12.
One of the passengers — 48-year-old Jason Schatzke of Wheatland, North Dakota — died in the crash. Schatzke was treasurer of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association.
There were five other occupants in the vehicle.
Thompson told law enforcement he had five or six drinks throughout the night, the affidavit said.
Thompson was elected as a Walsh County Commission member days before the incident, but didn’t take the position after the crash and his arrest.
If the judge accepts the plea agreement, Thompson would be sentenced to 360 days in custody with 326 days suspended. He has credit for four days, and the remaining 30 would be completed through electronic home monitoring.
Thompson would be on unsupervised probation for two years. As part of his probation, he’d be required to complete a chemical dependency evaluation within 60 days, and follow through with the evaluation’s recommendations.