MOORHEAD — A Grand Forks man sentenced to seven years for an April shooting at Moorhead apartment complex said he fired a pellet gun while protecting a woman from harm.
Clay County Judge Michelle Lawson ordered Steven Latee Ward, 43, to serve in prison at least two-thirds of two concurrent 84-month sentences for two second-degree felonies of assault with a dangerous weapon. Several other felonies, including a second-degree count of attempted murder, were dismissed.
He also will get 145 days credit for time served. A third of the sentence can be served on release.
The sentencing stems from an April 22 report of gunshots in the 1300 block of 19 1/2 Street South. A witness said they saw a man arguing with a person inside a blue Chevy Impala before pointing a gun at the car, according to a criminal complaint. The witness then heard gunfire, and one victim fired back with a BB gun, the complaint said.
A second person was in the vehicle, the complaint said. Ward fled the scene but was later arrested in Melrose, Minn., on April 30, police said.
No one else was arrested in connection to the shooting.
The victims and Ward knew each other, police said.
Prosecutors claimed Ward fired a revolver-style pistol, but the defendant maintained he shot a pellet gun, defense attorney Brian Toay said in a phone interview with The Forum.
As part of a plea deal, Ward did not have to admit that he fired a revolver, Clay County prosecutor Michael Leeser told The Forum.
Ward pleaded guilty in the case but missed a previous sentencing hearing. He also failed to participate in a presentencing investigation until he was arrested while on release.
In asking for the maximum penalty, two seven-year sentences to be served consecutively, Leeser called Ward a danger to the community. The defendant had a chance to show he has turned a corner, but he failed to follow court orders, Leeser said.
“He is a violent criminal,” Leeser said, adding Ward should be locked up for as long as possible. “He has a history that shows that.”
Ward's criminal history involves convictions for aggravated robbery and assault.
A plea agreement signed earlier suggested Ward should be sentenced to 40 months in prison, but Ward missing the presentencing investigation opened up sentencing to a harsher penalty.
The court has the right to give Ward a harsher sentence, but 14 years seems unreasonable for a crime involving a pellet gun, Toay said. He argued for Ward to be sentenced to 84 months or less, which is more than double the initial deal.
Ward said an illness prevented him from attending a previous sentencing hearing, but he acknowledged he should have done more to participate in the presentencing investigation.
He also said he felt he wasn’t the aggressor in the case. He claimed he was defending a woman from being hurt.
“I just ask for the court’s leniency,” he said.