Set-up man in Berg case pleads guilty
By all accounts of those involved, Travis Allen Jenkins did little else than watch the murder of Orvin Berg. But his role in the plot to kill for drugs and cash was crucial, a prosecutor said Monday. It was Jenkins who laid the bait by exploiting...
By all accounts of those involved, Travis Allen Jenkins did little else than watch the murder of Orvin Berg.
But his role in the plot to kill for drugs and cash was crucial, a prosecutor said Monday. It was Jenkins who laid the bait by exploiting Berg's trust and arranging a meeting to settle a drug debt, said Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Aaron Birst.
"If Berg knew it was somebody other than a trusted client, he wouldn't have come," Birst said.
On Monday, Jenkins, 21, became the second of three suspects to admit he conspired to murder Berg last November in a Fargo apartment. He entered the guilty plea without a deal from prosecutors and will be sentenced later.
James William Thompson III, also 21, entered his guilty plea June 13 and is awaiting sentencing. The third suspect, 22-year-old David Lynn Hieb, is scheduled for a July 25 trial.
Jenkins confessed to Fargo Detective Jim Ledoux in January after authorities found him in Hammond, La., Birst said. The charges of a murder conspiracy had been filed about a week earlier in Cass County.
"He was pretty distraught at that time," Ledoux said. "He came out with it pretty quick."
Ledoux said Jenkins showed the most emotion when he talked about sitting in the back seat of Hieb's car with Berg's dead body en route to dumping it.
"That's when he broke down and cried," Ledoux said.
Jenkins said the idea of jumping Berg began as a joke in the weeks leading up to the act, Birst said. According to Jenkins, the talk turned to murder when Hieb showed up, Birst said.
According to the plan, Jenkins called Berg the night of Nov. 2 or early the next morning and said he wanted to pay a $600 drug debt, Birst said. He invited his dealer to a friend's home at 810 12th Ave. N., with Berg thinking no one else would be there, Birst said.
Birst quoted Jenkins as telling Ledoux: "We went and called him that night to kill him."
When Berg arrived, Jenkins threw a hammer to either Thompson or Hieb, and stood by during the ensuing attack, Birst said.
The question of who struck the fatal blows is contested between the suspects. Jenkins and Thompson, who refer to each other as cousins, say Hieb swung the hammer, while Hieb says it was Thompson, Birst said.
Before he died, Berg called out, "Travis, help help," Hieb told police. Jenkins only turned his back, Hieb said.
Birst said Jenkins gave police the most detailed description of where Berg's body was. Searchers found it in the Red River near the Broadway bridge in April.
The three men split about $550 and a few grams of cocaine and meth from Berg, Birst said.
Mark Beauchene, Jenkins' defense attorney, did not dispute Birst's brief characterization of Jenkins' involvement. He has declined to discuss the case outside of the courtroom.
Birst said he didn't know why Jenkins decided to plead guilty without waiting for a sentencing recommendation from the state. Thompson entered his plea knowing Birst planned to recommend a 25-year prison sentence and five years of supervised probation.
A count of conspiring to commit murder carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, the same as for murder.
Sentencing dates for Thompson and Jenkins have not been set.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Forster at (701) 241-5538