FARGO – One victim was supposedly overcharging him for drugs. The other was just fetching a stranger a glass of water after answering a late night knock on the door.
That's what led Ashley Kenneth Hunter to kill two men in north Fargo less than 12 hours apart Monday and Tuesday, according to complaints filed Wednesday in Cass County District charging him with murder in the slayings of 24-year-old Sam Traut and 45-year-old Clarence Flowers.
Hunter stabbed Flowers more than 50 times with a knife on Monday afternoon, police allege. He was angry at Flowers for "stealing all his girlfriends, overcharging him for drugs, and always showing Hunter disrespect," police say he told investigators.
That night, about seven hours after police had named him publicly as a person of interest in the fatal stabbing, Hunter hopped over a backyard fence and knocked on Traut's door.
He had been staying at an apartment building directly to the west of where Sam Traut lived at 1122 12th St. N., several blocks west of Flowers' apartment.
Hunter told police he asked Traut for a glass of water, court documents say.
But while Traut was getting the water, Hunter realized his face was all over the news. He decided it was taking too long, and Traut must be calling police. So he bludgeoned Traut to death with a hammer when he got back with the water minutes later, Hunter allegedly told police. He told police he hit Traut "a good 3 or 4 times," until he stopped fighting back, court records state.
He's accused of then setting a fire at Traut's apartment to cover up the killing.
A few steps away from that apartment is St. Paul's Catholic Newman Center, where Traut, a devout Catholic and Bible study leader, spent much of his time.
"A good young man unknowingly opened his door to a monster," Lt. Joel Vettel told Fargo police Chief Dave Todd, who relayed the comment to reporters at a morning news conference.
Traut hails from Sartell, Minn., the hometown of another Fargo homicide victim, Thomas Bearson. The 18-year-old North Dakota State University freshman was last seen alive at an off-campus party last September. His body was found three days later about five miles away in a RV sales lot in Moorhead, a killing that remains unsolved.
Fargo police Lt. Mike Mitchell said they investigated the Sartell link, not wanting to let any leads go unchecked, but found nothing that led them to believe the two killings were related.
Police initially said the public was not in danger while Hunter was on the loose after Flowers' killing, because the two men knew each other and the attack wasn't random.
But Traut's slaying does appear to be random. Police say there was no known connection between the two men, something Hunter himself corroborated in court Wednesday.
"I heard what you said but I don't understand why I'm being charged with it because I didn't do it," said Hunter, via a jail television monitor. "That's my friend Clarence, I never burned any house on fire and I don't know who Samuel Traut is."
Police say in court records that Hunter told them he has been using methamphetamine lately, which made him paranoid.
Hunter's words in court came as no surprise to Jessica Kapaun, who didn't even stop to shower before she rushed to his first court appearance on murder and arson charges Wednesday afternoon. She was there to hear Hunter deny everything.
Kapaun, who shares a young son with Flowers and had remained close to him after their relationship fizzled, wept outside the courtroom.
"He lies about everything-everything is a lie," she said of Hunter, who'd claimed not to understand the charges as they were read to him, insisting he couldn't have killed two people in such a short time frame. "Everything's over a girl or drugs with that guy."
A stolen pickup with the license plate KAT 096 was seen driving away from Flowers' apartment at 319 12th Ave. N. Monday afternoon, and police say in court records that Hunter was the suspected driver because he had been seen driving the pickup previously.
Before the killings, officers had tried to stop Hunter while driving the stolen truck, but he eluded them, according to the court complaint.
Hunter was already wanted on a warrant linked to a shoplifting case and was arrested on that warrant about 7 a.m. Tuesday, a little more than six hours after firefighters responding to a fire call found Traut's body.
After reading him his Miranda rights, required for police interviews of suspects in custody, investigators allege Hunter admitted to killing Flowers and Traut.
Police also allege Hunter told them he stabbed Flowers multiple times, including once to the neck and one to the mouth, court records state. Medical records showed Flowers suffered more than 50 stab wounds, police say.
Kapaun said she came to court Wednesday to make sure prosecutors followed through with their plan to ask that Hunter receive no bail, based on the severity of the crimes and his lengthy criminal record, some of which is violent. Bail is required in all but the most serious cases in North Dakota.
Barring that, said Cass County prosecutor Leah Viste, the state wanted the judge to set his bail at $2 million. Judge Norman Anderson agreed to set no bail in the case.
Asked if she would withhold a plea deal, Viste replied, "That can happen."
If convicted of the Class AA felony murder charges, Hunter could be sentenced to a life term in prison without chance for parole.
Kapaun pondered how she would someday tell her little boy what had happened to his father.
"You heard his record," she said of Hunter. "Why was he even out on the street?"