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Murder suspect quickly went from 'person of interest' to 'suspect'

FARGO—If police call you a "person of interest," it's not a friendly remark about how fascinating you are.

It means you know something and police want to talk with you about it.

"We use that term when we really don't know what their involvement is," said Fargo police Lt. Mike Mitchell.

Unlike another common police term—"suspect"—the words "person of interest" do not imply culpability.

But as recent high-profile cases in Fargo show, a person of interest in a homicide may quickly become a murder suspect.

Ashley Kennedy Hunter, who police accuses of murdering two men this week, made the terminology transition in fewer than 24 hours.

On Monday, police called him a person of interest. Police found him so interesting that they raided a home on First Avenue North in search of him.

On Tuesday morning, police said they had detained the person of interest. Hours later, police said the suspect was arrested for murder.

Lt. Mitchell said a person of interest "certainly could be a suspect at a later time ... if we have something that would lead us to believe that they actively participated in a crime.

"Some people would view it as semantics," he added, "but the reality is, we don't like to put people in our system as a suspect in a crime" until their involvement is substantiated.

Moorhead police Lt. Tory Jacobson said the distinction is also important because the issue may come up later in court.

"It's different in responsibilities for interviewing them, potentially," he said of the difference between people of interest and suspects. He said that once police have reason to believe a person of interest is responsible for a crime, there are different due process considerations.

Not every person of interest becomes a suspect. Police named three people of interest in connection with the killing of a Fargo man, Joey Gaarsland, outside a Main Avenue bar in May. Two of the three were later charged with murder.

Adrian Glass-Moore

Readers are encouraged to reach Adrian Glass-Moore at (701) 241-5599 or aglassmoore@forumcomm.com with comments, criticisms and tips. He joined The Forum as its night reporter in 2014.

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