ND Supreme Court hears arguments to reduce sentence of convicted teen killer of West Fargo woman

Steven Mottinger represents Barry Garcia during his sentencing hearing July 2, 1996, for the murder of Cherryl Tendeland. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service
Steven Mottinger represents Barry Garcia during his sentencing hearing July 2, 1996, for the murder of Cherryl Tendeland. Dave Wallis / Forum News ServiceDave Wallis / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — The North Dakota Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday, March 26, in an appeal brought by Barry Garcia for a reduction of his life sentence in the 1995 killing of a West Fargo woman.

Garcia, who was 16 at the time of the crime, was ordered to serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

He was sentenced in 1996 in Cass County District Court after jurors found him guilty of walking up to Cherryl Tendeland’s parked car and firing a sawed-off shotgun at her from point-blank range.

The defense argued on Tuesday that a state law passed in 2017 should apply to Garcia for sentencing relief.

The law states that people convicted as an adult for a crime they committed before they were 18 can seek a sentence reduction if: they have served at least 20 years in custody for the offense; the defendant filed a motion for a reduction in the sentence; the court determines they are not a danger to others; and the interests of justice warrant a reduction.

Following passage of the new law in 2017 Garcia's attorneys asked the state Supreme Court to rule on whether it could be applied to Garcia's case, but the high court declined because the question had not first been considered by the district court.

A Cass County District Court judge subsequently ruled that the new state law could not be applied in Garcia's case.

The appeal presented to the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeks to reverse the district court ruling.

Garcia’s defense argued that since it has been at least 20 years since Garcia’s imprisonment and he was under the age of 18 when he committed the crime, the new statute should apply to Garcia.

Prosecutors maintained the legislature intended for the new law to be applied to cases that arise after the date it was enacted in 2017 and that the law cannot apply retroactively to Garcia’s case, maintaining that the lower district court interpretation of the law was correct.

The Supreme Court has several months to make a decision in the matter.