5 things to know today: New trial, Potential litigation, Busy session, Peltier rally, Crypto settlement

A select rundown of stories found on InForum.

Cassandra Black Elk.
Photo via Great North Innocence Project

1. After North Dakota mom pleaded guilty, baby's autopsy showed she wasn't at fault, judge says

A judge has ruled that an attorney wrongfully told a North Dakota woman to plead guilty to child neglect roughly two weeks before an autopsy showed she didn't cause her baby's death.

Burleigh County District Judge Daniel Borgen issued a ruling that says 27-year-old Cassandra Black Elk deserves a trial.

On Jan. 30, Judge Borgen vacated Black Elk’s guilty plea to child neglect, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. She was released from the custody of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after serving almost half of her 18-month sentence.


An autopsy report revealed the Feb. 19 death of Black Elk’s 3-week-old daughter, Starlight, in Bismarck was the result of “unexplained sudden death,” sometimes referred to as sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS. There was no evidence of foul play, and “Black Elk’s conduct was not attributable to” Starlight’s death, Judge Borgen wrote in citing the autopsy report.

“It’s very meaningful to her after what she went through in the courts and media, being blamed for" Starlight’s death, James Mayer, an attorney for the Great North Innocence Project in Minneapolis , told The Forum on Monday, Feb. 6.

The mother is hoping to "reclaim her name," Mayer said.

The Innocence Project is a nonprofit group that works to overturn wrongful convictions. Mayer and the organization represented Black Elk in her post-conviction relief petition.


Read more from The Forum's April Baumgarten

2. North Dakota leaders ready to spend millions on possible lawsuit against Minnesota

North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley speaks to reporters in his office on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

A top panel of North Dakota officials has positioned the state to sue Minnesota over a policy targeting electric utilities' carbon emissions.

North Dakota lawmakers have already begun the process of budgeting for a potentially expensive legal battle.

Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill last week that would require electric utilities in the state to wean off of fossil fuels by 2040. Gov. Tim Walz announced he will sign the proposal into law on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

The Republican-led North Dakota Industrial Commission voted unanimously Monday to allocate $1 million from a coal research fund for potential litigation against Minnesota and to approve the appointment of special assistant attorneys general to the case.


Gov. Doug Burgum, who chairs the commission, said North Dakota will continue conversations with its neighboring state about making "small changes" to the energy policy that could prevent a lawsuit. But the Republican governor noted that North Dakota is prepared to take legal action if an agreement can't be reached.

“This isn’t about the environment. This is about state sovereignty,” Burgum said.

Minnesota is a major customer for North Dakota's coal, natural gas and oil industries, and losing the North Star State's business would hamper the local energy sector.

North Dakota successfully sued Minnesota over a 2007 law banning the importation of coal power from new sources. A federal judge ruled in that case that Minnesota had violated the U.S. Constitution by regulating commerce in North Dakota.


Read more from Forum News Service's Jeremy Turley

3. Constituents, 'bite-size' ideas drive North Dakota lawmakers bringing the most bills

North Dakota Capitol
The cause of recent egg price increases is multi-pronged and one consumers are struggling with.
Forum News Service file photo

From the Bismarck Tribune via Forum News Service

Rep. Bernie Satrom lets out a hearty "gee whiz" when informed he's among lawmakers who have brought the most bills this legislative session.

"What happens is, once I leave Bismarck at the end of the session, as things come up and as I have discussions with people ... and I have ideas, I have them drafted and then when I show up in Bismarck, I've got a pile of them," said Satrom, R-Jamestown.

He and Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo, have brought the most bills in the House of Representatives, at 15 apiece.

Sen. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, has brought the most Senate bills, at 25.


Lawmakers have introduced 929 bills this session; the 1987 Legislature's 1,249 bills is the modern-day record.

Magrum said much of his legislation comes from constituents, "and it's hard to say no." He has multiple bills on topics such as carbon dioxide pipelines, private property rights, election procedures and vaccines.

"We're taking on a lot of big issues," said Magrum, a first-term senator who served in the House from 2016-22. "I'm willing to take them on because sometimes you have to have a pretty thick skin to take some of these issues on, and I guess I feel like I can handle the job, so I'm ready to do it."

Read more

4. On anniversary of Leonard Peltier's arrest, dozens gather in Fargo to plead for his release

People stand with their heads bowed in front of a courthouse. A large red banner reads "Land back."
Prayers are spoken at the rally for Leonard Peltier at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Fargo on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023.
David Samson / The Forum

More than 30 people gathered on the steps to the federal courthouse Monday, Feb. 6, to appeal for the freedom of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, who has been incarcerated for nearly half a century.


Native activists and others gathered on the 47th anniversary of Peltier’s arrest by Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Quentin N. Burdick U.S. Courthouse, 655 1st Ave. N., asking for compassionate release as many believe Peltier, who has health issues, should be allowed to return home.

“It’s time to bring him to his people,” said J. Garret Renville, chairman of the Sisseton Wahpeton Sioux Tribe.

“This relationship between Native Americans and the federal government has been contentious. There is a lot of division in our own country, and I ask people to recognize that fact. It’s a new day, and we need to come together in unity. We have to coexist together honorably and with compassion,” Renville said.

Peltier, now 78, from Grand Forks, was convicted of murder in 1977 following a trial that took place in Fargo. He was sentenced to two consecutive terms of life in prison for aiding and abetting in the murder of two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Although Peltier has remained insistent that he is not guilty, he has been denied many attempts at clemency. He has also been repeatedly denied parole, and in 2009, federal prosecutors, including then-U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley, who is now North Dakota attorney general, said Peltier was "an unrepentant, cold-blooded murderer."

Those who believe he is not guilty work for his release, saying his incarceration symbolizes the systemic problems with how Native Americans are treated within the criminal justice system.

Read more from The Forum's C. S. Hagen

5. North Dakota to get piece of $22.5 million settlement from crypto platform Nexo Capital

Cryptocurrency server farm
A Bitcoin server farm mines for cryptocurrency.

The state of North Dakota has reached a settlement agreement with a cryptocurrency platform related to the sale of unregistered securities, the state Securities Department announced Monday, Feb. 6.

The cryptocurrency platform Nexo Capital Inc. sold earn interest product (EIP) accounts to over 93,000 investors in the U.S., totaling over $800 million, according to the Securities Department.

Nexo, a Cayman Islands corporation formed in 2018, provides virtual currency-related financial services to retail and institutional customers and investors in the U.S., including trading, borrowing and lending services.

"During the investigation, it was discovered that EIP investors could passively earn interest on digital assets by loaning those assets to Nexo. Nexo maintained total discretion over the revenue-generating activities utilized to earn returns for investors," the Securities Department said in a statement. "The company offered and promoted the EIP and other products to investors in the U.S. via its website and social media channels suggesting in some instances that investors could obtain returns as high as 36%."

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Our newsroom occasionally reports stories under a byline of "staff." Often, the "staff" byline is used when rewriting basic news briefs that originate from official sources, such as a city press release about a road closure, and which require little or no reporting. At times, this byline is used when a news story includes numerous authors or when the story is formed by aggregating previously reported news from various sources. If outside sources are used, it is noted within the story.
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