Jury finds Fargo man guilty of killing his father

Christopher Riley listens to opening statements at his trial at the Cass County Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 29. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — A jury has found a Fargo man guilty of killing his father more than two years ago.

In Cass County District Court, Jurors returned the verdict on the Class AA felony charge of murder after about two hours of deliberation on Tuesday, Nov. 3, in the trial of 37-year-old Christopher Blaine Riley . He faces life in prison now that he has been convicted of fatally shooting Kevin Riley Sr.

Riley will be sentenced later after a presentencing investigation is completed, which could take about 60 days.

The guilty verdict draws to close a roughly three-day trial, including jury selection. It centered around the fact that police found Riley Sr.'s body on Sept. 21, 2018, under a white sheet on the living room floor of his son's apartment, with the 37-year-old Riley's handgun with the magazine removed on the couch. The 60-year-old died from a gunshot wound to the back of his neck behind his right ear.


Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Reid Brady gives his closing argument to the jury for the trial of Christopher Riley at the Cass County Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

The younger Riley called 911 that morning to report the death but refused to meet officers at his apartment. He was arrested the night of Sept. 27, 2018, in a Fargo park.

Prosecutors alleged Riley beat and shot his dad. They described the defendant as angry and evasive, claiming he avoided capture for a week and concocted several stories to elude responsibility.

Riley claimed his father shot himself. He previously said his father tried to kill him the night of the shooting before turning the gun on himself.

In arguing self-defense, Riley's attorney, Monty Mertz, told jurors his client was not angry but concerned for his own safety the night of the shooting.

Riley told his mother he offered his gun to his father and told him to shoot himself. The 60-year-old Riley grabbed the gun and tried to shoot his son, the younger Riley said in a jail call recording.


They struggled over the weapon before the father pulled the trigger with his thumb and shot himself, Riley said.

Defense Attorney Monty Mertz gives his closing argument for the trial of Christopher Riley at the Cass County Courthouse on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Mertz tried to convince jurors the state hadn't proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

"They haven't proven murder, folks," Mertz said.

Riley has told different stories of the event. He said he was not there when his dad shot himself. In a jail call recording, Riley said that he panicked when he saw his dead father, covered him with a sheet and moved the gun.

He told another person he was there, but there was no struggle before his father killed himself.

Riley's stories have been "purely unreasonable," Assistant State's Attorney Reid Brady said.


"This is a game to the defendant," Brady said.


The bullet's trajectory suggested Riley Sr. was on the floor when he was shot, Brady said. Evidence also showed Riley staged a suicide by putting his gun in his father's hand after he died, the prosecutor said.
"Self-defense? Not at all,” Brady said.

Burn marks on Riley Sr.'s wound implied the weapon was upside down in relation to his head when it was fired, Brady said. He also noted the sheet covering Riley Sr. was stained with the defendant's urine, indicating Riley urinated on the sheet after he covered his father's body.

"This was nothing other but murder," he said.

The case moved faster than attorneys expected. The trial was scheduled to last seven days.

Prosecutors called 16 witnesses, including a medical examiner whose opinion was that Riley Sr. did not shoot himself.

The defense presented no witnesses for its case, and Riley did not testify on his own behalf. Mertz said he asked few questions in the case because few facts were disputed.


Riley declined to be in court Wednesday, as he did for most of his trial. He was removed Friday by Judge Susan Bailey for disruptive conduct.

He has since said he wants nothing to do with the proceedings, calling them "a mock trial."

Riley must be sentenced to at least four years in prison for using a gun to commit the crime, but prosecutors plan to ask for significantly more time, Brady said.

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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