Shaw: From days to decades after Medina shootout, families and shooters cope with fallout
From a manhunt to a trial to a letter sent in 2022, the effects of one of North Dakota's most notorious crimes are still felt today.
MEDINA, N.D. — On the night of Feb. 13, 1983, a shocking news story from outside Medina made its way across the nation. Two law enforcement officers were shot to death and three more officers were wounded, along with one of the assailants.
Shot dead were 53-year-old North Dakota U.S. Marshal Ken Muir and 32-year-old Deputy Marshal Robert Cheshire. The wounded officers were 59-year-old Deputy Marshal James Hopson, 26-year-old Stutsman County Deputy Sheriff Brad Kapp and 22-year-old Medina Police Officer Steve Schnabel.
The wounded assailant was 23-year-old Yorie Kahl.
Hopson had a severe brain injury. He was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Bismarck where he had surgery and then was in intensive care.
“His first comment to me was, ‘What are you doing here?’” said Mike Hopson, James Hopson’s son. “I told him he was in the hospital. He didn’t know he was shot or what happened.”
“We were told there was a great chance he wasn’t going to survive,” said Cheryl Hopson, James Hopson’s daughter.
James Hopson did survive, but with his devastating disabilities, life became extremely difficult.
Kapp, Schnabel and Yorie Kahl were taken to a hospital in Jamestown.
Kapp was shot in the hand, chin, above his left eye and in the chest. He had surgery for his wounds and survived.
Schnabel was shot in the thigh. He was treated and released that day.
Yorie Kahl was shot in the abdomen and chest. He underwent surgery and survived.
That evening, federal authorities started a manhunt for anyone connected to the shootings. David Broer, 43, and Vernon Wegner, 25, turned themselves in that night. Scott Faul, 29, and Joan Kahl, 56, surrendered the next day. Yorie Kahl was arrested and charged while in the hospital. He was under 24-hour guard while hospitalized.
However, the ringleader and father of Yorie Kahl, 63-year-old Gordon Kahl, was on the run.
Two days after the shooting, more than 100 law enforcement officers from the Marshals Service, FBI, and state and local agencies surrounded the Kahls' farmhouse in Heaton, North Dakota. They fired massive amounts of tear gas into the house.
They found large amounts of weapons and ammunition, along with reading material promoting white supremacy, but Gordon Kahl was not there.
The next day, law enforcement and SWAT teams looked for Kahl throughout Ashley, about 110 miles southeast of Bismarck. Kahl was still nowhere to be found.
Following that, a command center was set up in Jamestown to coordinate the search. The Marshals Service also offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to Kahl’s arrest. There were no takers.
Meanwhile, Gordon Kahl’s wife, Joan Kahl, made a tearful plea in front of television news cameras for her husband to give himself up.
“Please, Gordon. Please. They won’t hurt you,” Joan Kahl said. “I’ve been treated real well here. Our son is in critical condition. Two men are dead. Others are going to be hurt. I don’t want you dead, too. Please. I can’t take any more.”
Three weeks after the shootout, all four members of the Medina Police Department were fired by the city council. Two of them, Police Chief Darrell Graf and Schnabel, were involved with the shootout.
“The mayor fired us without asking what happened,” Graf said.
He tried to move on, but that wasn’t possible. He eventually trained firefighters as a volunteer.
“The shootout destroyed my life,” Graf said. “I couldn’t apply for a job anywhere. If they saw I was the Medina Police Chief, I wasn’t going to get hired. My health is shot. My post-traumatic stress is severe. I’ve had counseling for 39 years.”
On the legal front, things were moving quickly. Yorie Kahl and Scott Faul were charged with two counts of murder, five counts of assault and one count of harboring a fugitive.
Broer was charged with assault, conspiracy and harboring a fugitive.
Joan Kahl was charged with conspiracy and harboring a fugitive.
Wegner pleaded guilty to interfering with law enforcement and promised to testify for the government. He was placed on probation for two years.
On May 12, 1983, just three months after the shootout, the trial started in Fargo federal court. Gordon Kahl was still in hiding, and his whereabouts were unknown to law enforcement.
"I felt an extra responsibility to do my best to make sure that those who shot the officers got what was coming to them,” chief prosecutor Lynn Crooks said a few months ago. “When those guys died in the line of duty, I lost good friends. This case was very personal to me. It really hurt to lose those guys. It still hurts.”
The prosecution called the defendants “willing participants.” The defense argued that the defendants acted in self-defense.
The trial lasted three weeks. The jury deliberated for 14 hours.
Yorie Kahl and Scott Faul were found guilty of second-degree murder and six other charges. They were found not guilty of first-degree murder.
Broer was convicted of conspiracy and harboring a fugitive and acquitted of the assault charges.
Joan Kahl was found not guilty of harboring a fugitive and conspiracy. The prosecution did not present evidence directly against her.
Yorie Kahl, Faul and Broer had no visible reaction when the verdicts were read. Their shocked relatives started loudly weeping.
“Justice was done,” Crooks said. “The message was: You have to pay your taxes. You can’t murder U.S. Marshals because you don’t want to pay your taxes.”
“I’m extremely disappointed. Very frustrated,” Faul’s attorney Erv Nodland said right after the verdict. “It’s a terrible tragedy for a lot of people.”
“I’m delighted that Joan was acquitted. It was the right thing to do,” Joan Kahl’s attorney Bob Ramlo said right after the verdict. “She just didn’t do anything. It was a miscarriage of justice to make her go through this ordeal.”
Yorie Kahl and Faul were sentenced to life in prison. Broer was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Acting on a tip, on June 3, 1983, just six days after the trial ended, three law enforcement officers entered a farmhouse in Smithville, Arkansas, owned by Leonard and Norma Ginter. Gordon Kahl was in the house, hiding behind a refrigerator.
Kahl and Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Matthews fired virtually simultaneously at each other.
Kahl was shot in the head and immediately died.
Matthews was shot in the heart, crawled out of the house, and died minutes later.
A SWAT team outside the house, not knowing Kahl was dead, fired thousands of rounds at the house, setting off explosions and a fire.
The Ginters, along with Art Russell and Ed Udey, were convicted of harboring a fugitive.
About 250 people attended Kahl’s funeral at a church in Bowdon, North Dakota. Kahl was characterized as a controversial and unusual man who loved his country.
In 1993, I conducted an exclusive interview for WDAY-TV with Yorie Kahl at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. He maintained his innocence and claimed he did nothing wrong.
“We were assaulted with deadly force, and we were defending ourselves,” Yorie Kahl said. “We weren’t criminals. It was a necessary thing to do.”
As the years have gone by, several officers have looked back at the decision to try to arrest Gordon Kahl that day with regret.
“This incident should not have happened this way,” Graf said. “Yes, Gordon should have paid his taxes. However, there was no plan here. There was no strategy. They could have waited several months and put together a plan.”
“It didn’t make sense to me why they went after him the way they did,” Schnabel said. “They could have walked up to him in so many places like restaurants, where he didn’t have a rifle, and arrest him right there.”
“We were outgunned,” said Deputy Marshal Carl Wigglesworth in 1993. “We didn’t know what we were getting into.”
“It was an unfortunate incident that didn’t need to happen,” Kapp said. “Gordon Kahl should have given up and taken care of it in the courts. That’s the way you do things.”
Yorie Kahl, 63, and Faul, 69, have unsuccessfully been trying for years to be released on parole. Kahl is in a federal prison in Pekin, Illinois. Faul is in a federal prison in Sandstone, Minnesota.
In 1993, Yorie Kahl said, “I don’t think I should have ever been here (in prison). I never was guilty of any of these things.”
“I’ve seen no sign of any remorse at all from this man,“ Wigglesworth said after listening to Yorie Kahl’s comments. “I see them as cold-blooded killers. There’s nothing in my heart that could justify releasing that man into the public. Ever.”
“I don’t feel that he has learned any lessons at all,” Roxanne Ludwig, daughter of slain U.S. Marshal Muir, said after listening to Yorie Kahl’s comments. “What they did was wrong. They were armed with guns. They were approached by federal officials who were out to do a job. They should have been the ones to lay their guns down.”
At Yorie Kahl’s parole hearing last July, acting North Dakota U.S. Attorney Jennifer Puhl argued against his release.
“Putting him on parole was not workable, because he will never submit to the authority of a federal judge and a federal probation officer,” Puhl said.
In a blog post submitted five months ago to “Trust Christ or go to Hell” on behalf of Yorie Kahl, he wrote, “They murdered my father and they are slowly murdering Scott and me. We won’t be the first innocent men who have died in prison. We won’t be the last.”
In recent months, relatives of the victims have strongly opposed releasing Kahl and Faul.
“Yorie Kahl has NO remorse for what he has done,” Laurie Muir-Riley, daughter of Ken Muir, wrote to the Parole Board. “Mr. Kahl will continue to be a threat to society. … He will continue to be extreme and dangerous and I want him nowhere near me or my family. ...
“I plead to you to not let this man live his life outside of prison walls. He has devastated so many families. He could easily kill again, as he will only continue his ways and he will believe he is above the laws of this country.”
“What they did that day was a conscious decision,” said Joan Kowalski, daughter of severely wounded U.S. Marshal Hopson. “They knew what they were doing. They have to pay the consequences. They made their decision. They should not get out.”
A few months ago, I wrote letters to Yorie Kahl and Scott Faul, asking them what happened in Medina, whether they have any regrets as to what happened that day and why they feel they should be released from prison.
Kahl did not write back, but Faul did.
Faul wrote, “Having covered that charade in 1983, you surprise me. … I never had a trial. … You all at the Forum helped to wrongfully convict my friends and I. You should be ashamed of yourself. ...
“To get a story from me you will have to prove to me that you now know what type of sick (expletive) they (the government) are. … Generally, you will have to publicly apologize, stating that you now know that the convictions were wrong, you are sorry for your part in that. … You must publicly state it. Then we will talk.”
There will be no public apology coming from me.
Next Saturday in this three-part series: The victims and their families.