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Walsh County man sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing his daughter

Steven Donald Aune, 67, asked the court for a four-year minimum sentence, but due to his criminal history, he was given the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He will receive drug and alcohol treatment while incarcerated.

011820.N.GFH.steven aune
Steven Donald Aune
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An Adams, N.D., man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for shooting and killing his daughter in May 2019.

Steven Donald Aune, 67, was found guilty in January of manslaughter after a weapon he was holding was discharged during an argument with his daughter, striking her in the abdomen and resulting in her death. According to court records, Aune was drunk at the time of the incident.

The jury was instructed to decide whether Aune was guilty of murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide. After six hours of deliberation across two days, the jury decided Aune was guilty of manslaughter. A manslaughter charge means the jury believed it was recklessness rather than intent that killed Stephanie Aune, 36.

At the January trial, Stephanie's twin sister, Stacey, testified that she had been sitting across the hall in her bedroom with the door closed when the incident occurred. While she didn't see what happened, she heard the "exasperated" argument between her father and sister leading up to the incident. Aune's attorney, Steven Mottinger, said the disagreement was about a family of rats Stephanie had brought back to Aune's residence to keep as pets in an aquarium.

Mottinger told the jury that at the time of the shooting, Stephanie was in her bedroom sitting on her bed, and Aune was standing about 10 feet away in the hall. He was holding a .22-caliber rifle, which Mottinger said had been misplaced in a bedroom. Mottinger said Aune picked up the rifle to bring it back downstairs, where he usually kept it.

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Aune said was possible the gun went off when he gestured with it.

"I don't know," he said in an interview with law enforcement following the incident. "It just .... went off."

After Stacey heard the gun go off, she left her bedroom to see what had happened. She testified that she found Stephanie downstairs, leaning on the kitchen table. Stephanie told Stacey that she had been shot, and that she was afraid it was serious, but Stacey didn't see any blood, and since her sister was standing and talking, she hoped the wound wasn't as bad as Stephanie thought.

Stacey said Aune told her to take his pickup and drive Stephanie to the hospital. When they left, Stephanie was still talking, but when they arrived, Stacey said she found her sister unresponsive and unable to stand. Stephanie died of the gunshot wound, which perforated multiple internal organs, about 15 minutes after being admitted to the emergency room.

A Walsh County sheriff's deputy, who had been dispatched to Aune's residence for a report of a suicidal male, arrested Aune when he was informed that Stephanie had died.

Aune asked the court for the four-year minimum sentence, but due to his lengthy criminal history and behavior he was given the maximum sentence of 10 years. As part of his sentence, he will receive drug and alcohol treatment while he is incarcerated.

Adams is a small town in Walsh County, west of Park River and Grafton.

Hannah Shirley covers crime, courts and criminal justice for the Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2018 graduate of the University of Idaho and has lived and worked in Grand Forks since 2019. Prior to moving to North Dakota, she worked as a reporter for the Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass., a receptionist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a barista in a New York City coffee shop. She can be reached by phone at (701) 780-1267 or by email at hshirley@gfherald.com.
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