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Witness reveals gruesome details of western ND man's death

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Chase Swanson2 / 4
Madison Beth West3 / 4
Nicholas Johnson4 / 4

BOWMAN, N.D.—Court documents have revealed the gruesome details of Nicholas Johnson's motel room death and the alleged kidnapping of a witness to his murder in August in the far southwest corner of North Dakota.

Madison West, 26, and Chase Swanson, 21, both of Bowman, have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder, theft of property and felon in possession of a firearm.

Swanson and West have a preliminary hearing in Southwest District Court scheduled for Oct. 13. They are currently being held at a correctional facility in Denver, where they were apprehended two days after allegedly committing the murder. Conspiracy to commit murder is a Class AA felony in North Dakota, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Nicholas JohnsonAffidavits and criminal complaints state West and Swanson allegedly agreed with each other to intentionally or knowingly cause the death of Johnson, a 23 year-old man from nearby Rhame, on Aug. 20 at their room at the El-Vu Motel in Bowman.

They obtained a weapon, invited Johnson to their room at the motel—where West was employed—and struck Johnson over the head with a flashlight and cinched a belt around his neck. An affidavit from the Bureau of Criminal Investigation states that a medical examiner concluded Johnson died by asphyxiation.

The defendants then took Johnson's 1999 Chevrolet pickup and drove it to Denver along with Todd Pashano, 28, of Kingman, Ariz.

The BCI affidavit stated that Pashano had sent two individuals text messages in a group thread, saying he had witnessed West and Swanson murder someone and had been kidnapped and taken to Denver against his will.

The three individuals dropped multiple bloody items off at West's father's residence in Cheyenne, Wyo., including some of Johnson's belongings, before continuing on to Denver.

Chase SwansonWhile in Denver, Pashano called 911 and, soon after, the Denver Police Department located him hiding in a hotel bathroom, and located Swanson and West in a parking garage near the hotel.

Denver police collected items from the individuals that were bloodied.

A search of the vehicle on Aug. 22 resulted in finding Johnson's wallet with his driver's license inside, multiple bloody items, electronic devices, a suitcase containing bloodied clothing in the bed of the pickup, and a Ruger 9mm handgun that had an "obliterated" serial number, according to the affidavit.

On the same day, Pashano was interviewed by the Denver Police Department and recounted what he witnessed. He stated that he saw Swanson repeatedly strike Johnson in the head with a red Maglite flashlight and witnessed West repeatedly stomp Johnson's head while inside room No. 25 of the El-Vu motel.

Madison Beth WestPashano said he was then held at knifepoint and forced to collect his belongings and put them in Johnson's truck while Swanson and West removed their personal items from the room.

Pashano said they then traveled to Swanson's parents' home in rural Bowman County. Once at the residence, Pashano told police Swanson retrieved a handgun and then held him against his will at gunpoint.

While traveling to Cheyenne and on to Denver, Pashano said he heard West and Swanson discuss how they murdered Johnson. They discussed how West had cinched the belt around Johnson's neck and sodomized Johnson with the same flashlight Swanson had used to hit him over the head.

Multiple attempts to reach Bowman County state's attorney Stephanie Pretzer for more information about the case were unsuccessful.