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Witness tells of 3 plots

DEVILS LAKE, N.D.

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. - A Fargo woman testified that her husband and murder suspect Aron Nichols discussed three scenarios to kill a man, including "pouring gasoline over the guy and gassing the house."

Nichols also told Melisa McLawhorn's husband, Scott McLawhorn, that "if you get things hot enough, you can cover up evidence pretty well," Scott McLawhorn testified Thursday on the third day of Nichols' and his fiancée Tamara Sorenson's double murder trial.

Nichols, of Fargo, is accused of shooting Donald and Alice Willey in their rural Sykeston home last April and then setting the residence on fire after scheming with Sorenson because she didn't want her daughter's paternal grandparents to have visitation.

Two of Nichols' former co-workers testified Thursday that Nichols said he would not allow the Willeys to have visitation with the girl, stating he might not be back at work, which they took to mean he'd be going to jail.

Eric Pedersen testified that at one point Nichols told him "he was going to go on a manhunt," and "he was going to get rid of these people," referring to the grandparents. Pedersen said Nichols made such statements two or three times, including once in August 2006 when he was dressed in full military fatigues tucked into his shiny black boots.

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A retired Fargo police officer testified that the same month he noticed Nichols watching him and the Willeys when the officer tried to get Sorenson to answer the door to abide by a default court order for visitation.

John Retterath testified that Nichols, who was in a truck about a block away, made him and another officer nervous, so they went up to him and asked if he would help.

Nichols said he couldn't do that, Retterath testified.

Two witnesses also testified Thursday about handguns Nichols and Sorenson purchased, including a .45-caliber handgun prosecutors say Nichols used to kill the Willeys and a .22-caliber handgun Sorenson bought four days before the Willeys' deaths.

Five .45-caliber shell casings were found along with the Willeys' unrecognizable bodies, testified Jeff White, a chief agent with the state's Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

When filling out paperwork to apply for the gun, Nichols answered "no" when asked about problems with his mental capacity, former Cabela's employee Scott Nichola testified.

Under questioning from Nichols' defense attorney, Nichola said the store uses background checks instead of checking medical information before selling its guns. Nichols' background check was delayed three days, but he passed, Nichola said under questioning from the prosecution.

Both defense attorneys have reserved their opening statements for after the prosecution's case, so it is unclear whether Nichols' defense attorney is planning to use mental illness as part of his defense. Numerous court documents in the case have been sealed, and the judge has gagged the attorneys from speaking about the case.

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Twenty-six witnesses have testified for the prosecution after three days. The trial, which is slated to last 18 days, will resume on Monday.

Trial summary, Day 3

- Who testified: Dr. Charles Nyhus, Wells County coroner; Heath Beindiek, Aron Nichols' friend; Melisa McLawhorn, acquaintance of Nichols; Scott McLawhorn, Nichols' friend; Sarah Mcbeain, McLawhorn's

ex-wife; Dustin Zeeb, Nichols' co-worker; Eric Pedersen, Nichols' co-worker; John Retterath, retired Fargo police officer; Scott Nichola, former Cabela's employee who sold Nichols a .45-caliber handgun; Bryan Mohr, former neighbor of Nichols; Tamara Sorenson; Lynette Caylor, mail carrier for Donald and Alice Willey; Toby Mougey, Sportsman's Warehouse manager; John Elstad, deputy state fire marshal; Jeff White, chief agent with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

- Key testimony: Aron Nichols' former co-workers testified that he spoke about harming the grandparents of his fiancee Tamara Sorenson's daughter. Melisa McLawhorn testified that Nichols and her husband, Scott, spoke about different scenarios to kill someone, including using fire to cover up the crime. Prosecutors say Nichols shot Donald and Alice Willey and set their house on fire to cover it up.

- Quotable: "He was kind of normal; like everyday." - Eric Pedersen, on Aron Nichols' demeanor while he talked about wanting to harm the Willeys.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Brittany Lawonn at (701) 241-5541

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