FARGO – A second murder trial for a Fargo man was averted Friday when he pleaded guilty to the crime and apologized for shooting his cousin to death at their north Fargo home last summer.
"I'm sorry for everything that happened," Christopher Hampton, 29, said in Cass County District Court. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and five years of supervised probation under a plea agreement approved by Judge Steven Marquart.
Hampton gave a special apology to the victim's girlfriend, Stefanie Desjarlais, who sat in the back of the courtroom holding a baby.
As part of the plea agreement, Hampton admitted to twice shooting his 28-year-old cousin, Randall Doehner, on June 26, 2014. The cousins attended the same rural Tennessee high school together and later worked in Minnesota before arriving in Fargo, where they lived together.
Their relationship deteriorated, and Hampton visited doctors several times before the shooting because he believed Doehner was poisoning him, though test results showed no signs of poisoning, according to prosecutors.
The prosecution and defense agreed that Hampton murdered his cousin while "under the influence of extreme emotional disturbance."
"Medical witnesses, other witnesses described him as delusional," said the county's top prosecutor, Birch Burdick, in an interview after the court hearing. He said Hampton suffered from mental health issues.
In a five-day trial held in July, Hampton argued he was acting in self-defence when he shot Doehner in the back and the back of the head. The judge declared a mistrial when jurors failed to agree on a verdict. A second trial was scheduled for next week.
Prosecution and defense attorneys talked with jurors after the mistrial to understand why they could not agree on a verdict, Burdick said. In the end, he said, prosecutors decided a plea agreement was better than taking the risk of a second trial.
"It was not everything we wanted in the outcome of this case, but we were willing to accept it," Burdick said. Hampton could have faced a lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole if convicted of murder.
Hampton will be eligible for parole after serving 85 percent of his sentence. His 20-year sentence includes the 442 days he has already served in jail.