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Fargo food truck murder trials pushed into next year

One defendant has fired his attorney

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Kareem Lee Byrd appears via video Wednesday, May 27, in district court for a dispositional conference for the June 7, 2019, murder of Jason "Jay" Allen Halvorson. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Trials for two men accused of fatally shooting a food truck owner last year in downtown Fargo will be delayed until next year, though the date for the defendant who fired his attorney Tuesday, Dec. 1, is unknown.

Cass County Judge Stephannie Stiel approved Kareem Lee Byrd Jr.’s request to remove attorney Steven Mottinger as his defense attorney. The 21-year-old will be assigned a replacement attorney.

The date for his trial won’t be set until a different attorney gets the case, Stiel said.

Along with Charles Edward Harris III, Byrd faces life in prison if convicted of killing 38-year-old Jason “Jay” Allen Halvorson last year near Halvorson’s food truck, Texas Q BBQ and Catering, at 601 Fourth St. N.

The two men were charged in Cass County District Court with Class AA felonies of murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the shooting that occurred June 7, 2019, at the former Sahr’s Sudden Service station parking lot. Prosecutors allege the duo argued with Halvorson, left to retrieve guns and returned to kill the food truck owner.

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Harris’ trial was supposed to start Dec. 8. Judge Wade Webb ordered the trial to be reset for April 13 after attorney Jason Butts, who was assigned to be Harris’ lawyer on Oct. 1, said in mid-October he hadn’t received information about evidence and witnesses in the case, otherwise known as discovery.

The defendant has gone through several attorneys, though it's not his own fault, Assistant State’s Attorney Tanya Martinez said Tuesday in court. Several lawyers appointed to Harris had conflicts of interest connected to the case, and another one asked to be excused due to medical reasons.

Finding an attorney for Byrd could take some time because those same conflicts with some available attorneys could arise, Martinez said. However, it may be better to have the trial postponed, she said.

Byrd’s trial was slated to begin Dec. 15, a week after Harris’. That means witnesses would have been going in and out of the courtroom as coronavirus cases surge in North Dakota.

Until recently, Byrd said he was happy with Mottinger’s representation. On Tuesday, Byrd claimed Mottinger hadn’t provided him with discovery.

“He hasn’t been providing me with anything I need,” Byrd said. “I’m just not satisfied.”

Mottinger said he has provided Byrd with all of the information available on the case.

“At this point, there are definitely some communication issues,” he said, but denied it was on his side.

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Mottinger said he gave Byrd an assessment of the case with which the defendant disagreed. The two no longer see eye-to-eye, and representing Byrd would be difficult, the attorney added.

Martinez and Stiel said Mottinger is very experienced and knowledgeable in murder cases. The judge warned Byrd he may not get an attorney who is as skilled in trying cases.

“Having Mr. Mottinger off the case probably benefits the state,” Martinez said.

Stiel set Byrd’s next hearing for Dec. 30.

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSFARGO
April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
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