MOORHEAD — A 40-year-old man charged in connection with a killing of a North Dakota man at a Clay County farmstead in 2018 pleaded guilty on Friday, April 12, alleging that his co-defendant committed the murder.
As part of a plea agreement, Jason Charles Jensen, of Hitterdal, Minn., pleaded guilty to one felony count of second-degree aiding and abetting a murder with intent, but without premeditation, at a hearing in Clay County District Court.
Jensen is set to be sentenced June 11. Per the plea agreement, he could face up to 38 years and seven months in prison.
Jensen and his co-defendant, 35-year-old Kayla Louise Westcott, of Ada, Minn., were arrested in June after authorities identified them as persons of interest in the missing person case of Troy Edmond Yarbrough out of Wahpeton, N.D.
Westcott faces the same charge as Jensen. She has a court hearing slated for May.
A search-and-dive team was in Hitterdal on Wednesday, April 10, in connection with the case, according to Clay County Sheriff Mark Empting. But no further details were released regarding the search.
Both Westcott and Jensen were charged after human remains, identified as Yarbrough, were found at Jensen's home at 25324 70th Ave. N. in Hitterdal on June 16, according to court documents.
Authorities learned on June 15 that Yarbrough had been missing since May 18 and was last seen with two people, later identified as Westcott and Jensen, court documents show.
At Friday's hearing, Jensen took the stand and said he and Westcott picked up Yarbrough the weekend of May 19, and were in a shed on the farmstead when he saw Westcott hit Yarbrough with a cinderblock.
Jensen said Westcott started "yelling and screaming" and hit Yarbrough with a rake or broomstick before going back into the house.
He said he went out in front of the shed and after a few hours, he and Westcott went back into the shed and found Yarbrough was still alive.
Jensen said Westcott grabbed an ax and "handed me the ax and told me to finish it." He said in court that he couldn't bring himself to swing the ax. He said he handed the ax back to her "knowing what she was going to do."
He said Westcott swung the ax into Yarbrough's chest. Jensen said he and Westcott then took the body into the yard and set it on fire and disposed of the remains in a hole.
When the prosecutor asked if at any point he tried to see if Yarbrough was alive or if he tried to help Yarbrough, Jensen said he didn't.
The prosecutor also asked why Westcott might have done what he's alleging, and Jensen said Westcott and Yarbrough didn't get along. Jensen said Westcott was mad when she found a cigarette burn in their vehicle and that "things escalated from there."
Jensen's recounting of what happened is similar to what he previously told authorities — when he denied taking part in the killing but acknowledged helping dispose of the body — but differs drastically from Wescott's version.
Westcott told authorities that Yarbrough approached her in the shed on May 20 and said "it's either you or me," according to charging documents. At that point, she said Jensen hit Yarbrough with a rake handle and then hit him with an ax before asking her to do the same, the documents show.
Westcott said she swung the ax but stopped short of striking Yarbrough, court documents show.
Westcott said when they found Yarbrough alive the next day, Jensen struck him with a cinderblock, court documents show. She said they tried to burn the body and bury it behind the house, court documents stated.