Last of 3 men sentenced for fatal Red River stabbing in Fargo
Joseph Poitra received time served for his part in the death of Phillip Dewey Bergquist. Bergquist's father said the family plans to plant a tree near the Moorhead Bergquist Cabin in his son's honor.
FARGO — The last of three men charged in connection to a fatal stabbing near the Red River in downtown Fargo has been sentenced to time served.
Cass County Judge Nicholas Chase sentenced Joseph Matthew Poitra, 29, on Thursday, May 11, to time served for his involvement in the Oct. 29 death of 33-year-old Phillip Dewey Bergquist of Ashland, Wisconsin. Poitra was slated to be released Thursday.
The defendant faced life in prison after being charged with accomplice to murder. A plea deal lowered that charge to reckless endangerment, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison.
The defense and prosecutors recommended Poitra be sentenced 192 days in jail, which he already served during court proceedings. He also must serve 18 months of supervised probation.
Poitra’s sentencing hearing concluded criminal court proceedings connected to Bergquist’s death. Court documents said Bergquist, Poitra, 39-year-old George Anthony Ortiz and 25-year-old David Eduardo Reyneros Jr. met each other downtown and drank alcohol. The four men knew each other, prosecutors said.
Poitra’s attorney, Blake Hankey, said the four men first went to the downtown VFW for drinks before pooling money to buy a bottle of alcohol at Empire Liquors.
The four men then went down to the river near the railroad bridge, court documents said. Ortiz became upset with something Bergquist said before stabbing the Wisconsin man, prosecutors said.
Reyneros, who lived in a Fargo apartment with Ortiz, said he saw Poitra hold Bergquist down, according to a criminal complaint. Poitra has maintained he was trying to stop Ortiz.
Hankey said during Thursday’s hearing that Poitra thought a fight had broken out between Bergquist and Ortiz. Poitra grabbed Bergquist’s arm, but he let go once he realized Ortiz had a knife.
“He (Poitra) is adamant that he didn’t hold him (Bergquist) down knowing there was a stabbing going on,” Hankey said.
Bergquist tried to get away but collapsed, prosecutors said. Ortiz then slit Bergquist’s throat and rolled him into the river, court documents said.
“This is a horrific event, there is no denying that,” Hankey said.
Ortiz was sentenced last week to 55 years in prison after pleading guilty to murder. He claimed someone sent Bergquist after him and his family, and that he was trying to protect his children.
Ortiz said he chose the wrong person to “send a message” to others who wanted to get him out of town. Prosecutors said there is no evidence to back Ortiz’s claims.
Ortiz also claimed he only stabbed Bergquist five times, despite the victim having 20 stab wounds.
Reyneros also pleaded last week to tampering with evidence. He threw Ortiz’s bleached pants into a dumpster, which were later found by police.
Reyneros was sentenced to time served.
Chase acknowledged Poitra cooperated with officers before agreeing to the plea deal.
Bergquist’s father, Paul Bergquist, said he was generally happy with the sentences for the three men. He said he was thinking about his son, noting his family has traced his lineage on his mother’s side to 25 generations, including Viking royalty in the 1000s.
Paul Bergquist acknowledged his son had struggles with mental illness and drugs, but he came to Fargo last spring in hopes to explore.
“He was trying to find greener pastures, but that didn’t quite go as planned,” Paul Bergquist said.
While homeless, Phillip Bergquest spent several nights at the Bergquist Cabin, the oldest home in Moorhead. It was built by his great-great-grandfather and early Moorhead settler John Gustav Bergquist.
His family plans to plant a Colorado blue spruce tree near the cabin in his honor and spread his ashes there this weekend, Paul Bergquist said.
When asked what he wanted people to remember about his son, Paul Bergquist said Phillip Bergquist had a big, infectious laugh.
“He had a lot of mischief in him, but he had a lot of fun mischief,” Paul Bergquist said.