FARGO – Shortly after a jury found Ashley Hunter guilty of murdering Clarence Flowers and Samuel Traut in June 2015, Traut’s mother, MaryAnn, remembered her son Samuel this way: “He was about God and others.”
Traut was joined by her husband, Lloyd, in thanking law enforcement, court workers and others who helped convict Hunter of two counts of murder and one count of arson Friday afternoon, June 2, in Cass County District Court.
“It means justice was served, it was a long two years for us,” Lloyd Traut said.
Carolyn Conner, the mother of Clarence Flowers, said the verdicts were an important moment for her, too.
“This case has brought about a lot of emotions,” she said, adding that she and the Traut family have formed a friendship and that they have helped each other through a very difficult period.
The jury deliberated just a few hours before handing down the verdicts. The two murder charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. Hunter will be sentenced at a future date.
During closing arguments Friday, Cass County State’s Attorney Birch Burdick opened his remarks this way: “When you live life in a meth-induced haze, reason is hard to come by – chaos, destruction and death is the norm.”
Hunter’s attorney, Samuel Gereszek, insisted in his closing argument that the state’s case against Hunter could not hold up under scrutiny, and he suggested two other people may have been responsible for the deaths of Flowers and Traut in June 2015.
During the two-week trial, the state presented evidence that Flowers was stabbed 77 times, while Traut was killed by hammer blows to his head.
The prosecution's case suggested strongly that both murders were fueled by drug use, and a video of a statement Hunter gave to police shortly after his arrest the morning of June 23, 2015, reinforced that suggestion, with Hunter essentially confessing to both murders.
Gereszek challenged that conclusion, suggesting that Hunter confessed to murders he didn’t commit to cover for Megan Wartman, a woman Hunter was friends with and who Gereszek suggested killed Flowers because he had sexually assaulted her.
Wartman testified during the trial that she saw Hunter kill Flowers with a knife and that Hunter then took her hostage.
When it came to Traut’s death, Gereszek suggested he may have been killed by a neighbor, Christopher Doss, who testified during the trial that Hunter and Wartman showed up at his house and did drugs with him in the evening following Flowers’ murder on June 22.
Doss testified that he had only just met Hunter and that he asked him to leave his home the night of June 22 after watching a news broadcast and learning Hunter was wanted in Flowers’ death.
During his closing statements, Burdick focused on linking physical evidence to details Hunter revealed in his statement to police.
Burdick quoted Hunter’s descriptions and motives for the crimes, stating that Hunter said the killing of Flowers was personal because of the way Flowers would pursue Hunter’s female friends.
Burdick quoted Hunter as saying the reason he killed Traut was because he was “completely paranoid” and thought Traut was going to call police to turn him in.
Stating that a jigsaw puzzle of the Eiffel Tower would be recognizable even with some pieces missing, Burdick told the jury, “You know what this picture’s all about, find him guilty.”
After the guilty verdicts were announced, Burdick said he was pleased with the decisions, stating he felt the jury analyzed the case “the way we saw it.”