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Prosecutors file motion to dismiss charges against ex-Dickinson principal in arson case

Tom Sander

DICKINSON, N.D. - Prosecutors have filed a motion to dismiss charges against the former Catholic high school principal accused of starting a fire in the school that displaced staff and students.

Tom Sander had been charged with arson and endangering by fire after the March 3 fire that damaged Trinity High School, but key pieces of evidence in the case against him were suppressed in a hearing Tuesday. Sander’s defense successfully argued that he was not properly read his Miranda rights before being held in custody.

A motion to dismiss was posted Thursday on the North Dakota Courts website. The website did not state who filed the motion, but defense attorney Lloyd Suhr said the state likely submitted the dismissal “based upon the motion and the lack of other evidence in the case.”

Sander was notified of the development Thursday afternoon.

Southwest District Judge William Herauf has not signed off on the request, but Suhr said he anticipates the motion will be reviewed next week and expects it will be upheld.

A second pretrial hearing is still scheduled for Tuesday.

State’s Attorney Tom Henning was not immediately available for comment.

The defense had planned to provide testimony from three people showing Sander was at home when the arsonist was in the school.

In motions filed with the court, the defense also brought up evidence that a student allegedly knew accurate, nonpublic details about the fire and had a grudge against the school.

Defense attorneys say investigators ignored other evidence because they “had already announced to the world that Sander was their guy.”

The defense alleged the detectives in the case scared Sander into a confession.

“These officers are not inexperienced rookies who mistakenly crossed a line in overenthusiastic zeal,” the lawyers wrote. “... they engaged in a deliberate and blatant violation of Sander’s Fifth Amendment and due process rights.”

Sander was in his first year as principal of the school, which was forced to find other classroom space in Dickinson for the remainder of the school year because of the fire and smoke damage.

At the time of the fire, Sander had already given notice that he wouldn’t return the next school year.

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