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Moorhead man accused of killing taxi driver wants trial in different county

The defense for Willie Alonzo Sparkman Jr. cited news coverage as a reason for a change of venue. A hearing has been set to discuss the matter.

WILLIE SPARKMAN MUGSHOT
Willie Alonzo Sparkman Jr.
Clay County Jail photo
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MOORHEAD — An attorney for a Moorhead man accused of killing a taxi driver last year wants to change the location of the trial.

Defense attorney Michael Minard told Clay County District Judge Tammy Merkins on Friday, June 10, in court that he will file the change-of-venue request for 19-year-old Willie Alonzo Sparkman Jr.

Minard cited news coverage as a reason to change the location of the trial. A brief further explaining the request likely will be filed next week, he said. A hearing to discuss the change of venue is set for Thursday, July 14.

Defense attorneys sometimes ask for a change of venue because they believe news coverage will taint the pool of jurors, suggesting their clients can’t have a fair trial. If approved, the trial would be moved to another county. Changes of venues are rare in Clay County trials.

Sparkman faces three charges, including second-degree murder, in connection to the death of 24-year-old Doyle’s Yellow Checker Cab driver Abdullahi Mohamed Abdullahi of Moorhead.

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Sparkman entered a not guilty plea to the charges on Friday.

Prosecutors allege Sparkman and his then-girlfriend, 18-year-old Kristy Thi Vo of Fargo, lured Abdullahi to a Moorhead apartment at 3015 20th St. S. And Sparkman tried to rob Abdullahi before shooting him at about 3:20 a.m. May 5, 2021, court documents said.

Video showed Abdullahi driving away after the shots were fired, according to court documents. He crashed his taxi into a nearby ditch and he was found dead by police about 40 minutes later.

Prosecutors said Sparkman fled in a vehicle driven by Vo. They were arrested and are being held at the Clay County Jail.

Court documents allege Vo and Sparkman devised a plan to rob people to pay rent. He faces a robbery charge in North Dakota's Cass County, with prosecutors there saying he robbed a woman on May 4, 2021, in Fargo while armed with a knife.

Vo faces the same charges as Sparkman. She denied her involvement during a jailhouse interview.

Some of Sparkman's statements made the day of his arrest have been barred from being discussed during the trial. A judge ruled investigators violated his right to remain silent during a May 5, 2021, interview.

A trial date was not set Friday, but prosecutor Pamela Foss said the earliest date available on her schedule is in October.

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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