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Attorney for slain couple says grandparents frustrated about visitation but tried keeping open dialogue with girl's mother

UPDATED 2:54 p.m.

Aron Nichols

UPDATED 2:54 p.m.

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. - An attorney who represented Donald and Alice Willey in their visitation battle with the woman accused of plotting to kill them testified Thursday morning in Ramsey County District Court.

Attorney Leslie Johnson Aldrich testified that the Willeys received visitation rights on Feb. 13, 2007, but there were still problems actually seeing their granddaughter, who is Tamara Sorenson's daughter with their late son.

Despite the problems and the battle that became heated at times with Sorenson calling Donald Willey a "snake in the grass" and Alice Willey "very controlling," the Willeys tried to maintain a relationship with Sorenson, Johnson Aldrich said.

"They were frustrated, they were determined, but they also tried to still keep the door open with Tammy," Johnson Aldrich testified, adding the Willeys still sent Sorenson birthday cards and letters.

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But Sorenson's need to control visitation led her to plot with her fiancé, Aron Nichols to kill the Willeys, prosecutors contends. On Feb. 13, 2007 - the same day the Willeys were granted visitation rights - Nichols began the process to purchase a .45-caliber handgun, a Cabela's employee testified last week.

Nichols is accused of shooting the Willeys with a .45-caliber handgun in April 2007 at the request of Sorenson and then setting their rural Sykeston home on fire to hide the evidence. Sorenson faces accomplice to murder charges.

The assistant Aberdeen, S.D., rural fire department chief also testified Thurday morning about the training Sorenson received while working at the department for four years. The training included different types of fires, phases of fires and how to determine the cause of a fire, Gene Wolter said.

Because of that training, firefighters would have more knowledge than the general public on how to start a fire, Wolter said.

As of this morning, prosecutors have now called three witnesses to testify about jail policies regarding the inspection of inmate mail and the potential for calls made from the jail to be recorded. Prosecutors have referred to communications from both defendants with family members.

A tape of Nichols calling Sorenson from jail and discussing whether she would be arrested was played during previous proceedings leading up to the trial.

The prosecution will continue presenting its case today, which marks the seventh day of testimony. More than 70 witnesses have testified so far.

A fire expert testified Thursday afternoon that the fire at the Willey home was deliberately set and could have involved the use of an accelerant.

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Read more Friday in The Forum.

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