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Jury begins deliberations in Rodney Chisholm murder trial

The jury of five men and seven women in the Rodney Chisholm murder trial began deliberations about 1:20 p.m. today after attorneys from both sides made their closing arguments this morning. The trial began last Tuesday.

Rodney Chisholm

The jury of five men and seven women in the Rodney Chisholm murder trial began deliberations about 1:20 p.m. today after attorneys from both sides made their closing arguments this morning. The trial began last Tuesday.

About 5 p.m., the jury asked to have dinner brought in and orders were taken, courthouse sources said.

Pizza was delivered to the jury about 5:40 p.m.

Security officers remain at the courthouse entrance after hours until the jury returns a verdict or goes home for the evening.

Chisholm, 45, is charged with murdering his brother, Donald, 59, last June 24 and burying his body at a rural site 12 miles northwest of Grand Forks over which they were quarreling, according to testimony.

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Chisholm testified for nearly six hours Monday that he acted in self-defense in hitting his brother with a steel pipe after Donald attacked him and threatened to kill him with a pistol.

If convicted, he faces a possible maximum penalty of life in prison. The jury's two alternates, both men, were dismissed before the lunch break.

Both the prosecutor, Jason McCarthy, and the defender, Steven Light, gave closing arguments lasting about 75 minutes.

"This case is about more than just murder," McCarthy, an assistant state's attorney for Grand Forks County, told the jury. "It's about overkill."

Chisholm told investigators he wrestled with his brother for 10 to 15 minutes, bound his wrists to his beltloops, hit his brother several times in the head, heard a death sigh, then fastened a hose clap around his brother's neck, tightening the screw, McCarthy said.

"With every turn of the screwdriver, the defendant communicated and clearly displayed his intent to kill," McCarthy said.

McCarthy recited a litany of details he said Chisholm had "concocted" about the incident during his testimony Monday that were at odds with what he told investigators during hours of interviews last summer - watched or listened to by the jury last week - which themselves are inconsistent.

"The story changes each time the defendant recounts it," McCarthy said. "This mystery pistol," that Rodney said he often had seen in Donald's pickup was never found and no handgun was registered to Donald Chisholm, McCarthy said.

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Meanwhile, the defense's case focused not on Rodney's actions, but on "assassinating the character" of Donald Chisholm, McCarthy said.

Light told the jury this morning his client concedes he killed his brother, a tragedy, but the one at fault is Donald, not Rodney. The prosecution spent most of its time talking about facts that the defense admits, Light said. The real question is why Rodney killed Donald, and it was out of fear for his own life, Light said.

"I'm sorry, but that man (Donald Chisholm) contributed to the cause of his own demise," Light said. Defense witnesses, including four Chisholm siblings and two former neighbors of Donald, show him to have been a "creep," a man "crazed and obsessed" over issues concerning his property, "or what he thought was his property," Light said.

Several siblings said they had stopped talking to Donald decades ago because of his selfish, angry ways, Light said. A handful of siblings and an equal number of in-laws of Rodney and Donald again sat in the courtroom this morning. At one point, Light became emotional, apologizing to them for "calling on them" to testify for Rodney. But it had to be done for the sake of their brother, he said.

"Rodney didn't go looking for Don," Light said of the day last June. "Don brought the fight to him." Donald was angry that Rodney was going to buy a small tract - the size changed from 5 to 17 to 30 acres in Rodney's plans as they developed - of land from their mother, interfering with Donald's farming of the larger tract around it, Light said.

In his second, final closing argument after Light's, McCarthy pointed out to the jury he had submitted Donald Chisholm's final will as evidence, showing he bequeathed a third of his estate to a local charity. Not something, he told the jury, a hateful, crazed, obsessed man would do.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that McCarthy had dismissed property theft charges against Rodney Chisholm. Those charges, involving allegations that more than $100,000 worth of stolen farm equipment, vehicles and other items, was found on property used by Rodney Chisholm, remain, a court official said. State District Judge Lawrence Jahnke said before the murder trial began that the theft charges would be dealt with after this trial.

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