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3 sentenced for stealing a special Fargo tree before Christmas

Paul Vogel looks over the remains of a Colorado blue spruce that was cut down by vandals along 64th Avenue North in Cass County. Vogel and his father planted the tree 30 years ago. Forum file photo

FARGO — Four weeks before Christmas, three young men sawed down a Colorado blue spruce north of Fargo that held sentimental value to a 65-year-old man. Now, nearly eight months later, the case has seen some closure.

The three men received a deferred imposition of sentence and nearly a year of unsupervised probation with a condition they don't violate any criminal laws, court records show.

Benjamin Shepherd, 20, and Brett Braseth, 19, both of Fargo, and Kyle Braaten, 19, of Portland, N.D., were charged March 27 with a Class A misdemeanor of conspiracy to commit criminal mischief.

All three were required to pay $2,860 in joint restitution to Paul Vogel, the tree's owner, and each were fined $325.

The tree stood almost 20 feet tall near the front entrance of Vogel's family farmstead north of Fargo. But the reason it held value was because Vogel's late father planted it more than 20 years ago.

Vogel took it on himself to get justice after it was cut down. On New Year's Day, he found his tree being loaded onto a truck near the North Dakota State University campus and decided to follow it. He lost the truck but went to a site where he found pieces of the tree and shared with an NDSU lab to compare with the tree rings at his homestead.

It was a match.

Vogel worked with the Cass County Sheriff's Office, and the office soon recommended that prosecutors press charges against the three men.

"When somebody does something like that to you, you feel really violated," Vogel previously told The Forum.