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Leron Howard, 35, was sentenced by Judge Thomas Merrick on Wednesday in Southeast District Court. A 12-person jury convicted him of murder and criminal conspiracy in August. Both are Class AA felonies, which carry a maximum punishment of life without parole.
The body of Abdi Ali Ahmed, 18, Jamestown, was found April 30, 2011, in a road ditch near Spiritwood. An autopsy determined Ahmed died from blunt force trauma to the head and had also been stabbed in the abdomen.
Howard and co-defendant Janelle Cave, 22, Jamestown, were arrested the same day Ahmed’s body was found. Cave was convicted of manslaughter and criminal conspiracy in February and is serving 11 years in prison. Cave withdrew the appeal of her convictions on Oct. 18.
Ahmed was an immigrant from Somalia who had lived in Jamestown for about a month at the time of his death. He had lived in Ohio before moving to Jamestown, where he lived in the homes and apartments of other Somali immigrants.
During the two trials it was established that Howard struck Ahmed outside a trailer home he shared with Cave. Ahmed was then dragged across the street, placed into a car and driven out of town. Cave and Howard each testified that the other stabbed Ahmed. Ahmed was left in the road ditch where he was found dead the next morning.
“In no way, shape or form did I want to kill him,” Howard said while speaking on his own behalf Wednesday, his voice breaking with emotion at times. “I asked the Lord to forgive and now ask Abdi’s family to forgive.”
Fritz Fremgen, Stutsman County state’s attorney, cited Howard’s criminal history in recommending a sentence of life without parole.
“By age 17, auto theft, by age 19 three more convictions,” he said, reciting a long list of convictions.
Fremgen also questioned Howard’s attitude.
“No legitimate income, no car, did not support his family, no degree, no job,” he said. “He parties, he’s ‘Rah Rah’ (Howard’s nickname). … People give him a place to live, food and several have sex with him.”
Steve Mottinger, Howard’s court-appointed attorney, recommended a 20-year sentence.
“I’m somewhat taken aback by the personal attack on Mr. Howard this morning,” he said. “To suggest this case was as clear cut as Fremgen indicated is not correct.”
Mottinger said the crime was not planned.
“I’m absolutely convinced that when this night started nobody expected it to end this way,” he said. “Leave it up to the parole board to determine if he has the right to re-enter society.”
No members of Ahmed’s family attended Howard’s sentencing although a sister had testified at Cave’s sentencing in April.
Merrick cited Howard’s criminal history in determining his sentence.
“You have a prior history with at least 23 prior convictions and approximately five felonies,” he said. “The longest you have gone in your adult life without a criminal conviction is 18 months.”
Merrick said he considered sentence options including life with parole, life without parole or a sentence of 39 years, which would be Howard’s natural life expectancy.
“I sentence you to life without parole,” he said. “I hope you improve but a good life in prison is the best you can do.”
Mottinger said after the sentencing Howard had requested a motion of intent to appeal be filed on his behalf.
Keith Norman writes for the Jamestown Sun