Refugees, quadruple homicide top North Dakota news in 2019
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Debate over whether to ban new refugees in North Dakota’s capital city county and a rare quadruple homicide in Mandan were among the top news stories in the state for 2019. Other notable news events included a crude oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in eastern North Dakota; the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries across the state; and the repeal of Sunday business restrictions that had been place since statehood.
North Dakota’s Burleigh County drew worldwide attention in December when it appeared it could become the first to ban refugees since President Donald Trump ordered that states and counties should have the power to do so. After four hours of often emotional testimony at a packed middle school cafeteria in Bismarck, the Burleigh County Commission voted 3-2 to limit the number of refugees it would accept next year to 25.
4 KILLED IN BLOODY MANDAN ATTACK
Police following evidence from surveillance video arrested a 44-year-old chiropractor in the grisly slayings of four people at a Mandan property management business, just days after the discovery of their bodies shook the state. Chad Isaak, 44, of Washburn, faces four felony counts of murder in the April 1 deaths of RJR Maintenance and Management co-owner Robert Fakler and three workers. Isaak lived on property managed by the company, but police have said that while they have plenty of evidence — spent shell casings, a knife and gun parts — they still haven't identified a motive. Isaak has pleaded not guilty and remains in jail with bail set at $1 million.
WOMAN KILLED, BABY TAKEN
A man whose life sentence was overturned in the death of a North Dakota woman whose baby was cut from her womb was re-sentenced in October to 20 years in prison. William Hoehn's new sentence came after he apologized and pleaded for leniency in front of a nearly empty courtroom. Hoehn, of Fargo, was sentenced to life in the 2017 attack on Savanna Greywind, whose baby survived. Hoehn's girlfriend, Brooke Crews, admitted she cut Greywind's baby from her womb. She was sentenced to life without parole. The state Supreme Court Justices ruled in August that a judge mistakenly classified Hoehn as a dangerous special offender. Hoehn said he had nothing to do with Greywind's death but admitted he helped cover up the crime.
A crude oil spill from the Keystone pipeline in eastern North Dakota reported in October has fouled about 209,100 square feet (19,426 square meters) of land near Edinburg. Calgary, Alberta-based TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, estimated its pipeline leaked an estimated 383,000 gallons (1.4 million liters) of oil. The cause of the spill is still unknown and a portion of the pipe is being inspected at a third-party lab. The spill came as the owner of the Dakota Access pipeline seeks to double the capacity of that line to as much as 1.1 million barrels daily. Texas-based Energy Transfer's pipeline has been moving North Dakota oil to a shipping point in Illinois since 2017. That pipeline sparked massive protests near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation before it was completed.
The final medical marijuana dispensary opened in Dickinson in December, marking the eighth such facility to open in the state. The state issued more than 1,850 identification cards to qualifying patients in 2019, after nearly two years of work developing and implementing a distribution system for the drug approved by voters in 2016. Other dispensaries are in Bismarck, Devils Lake, Fargo, Jamestown, Grand Forks, Minot and Williston.
A retired judge, a lawyer, a former mayor of a North Dakota oil boom town, a retired military general and a tribal college president were selected by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum and Senate leaders to sit on the state's voter-approved ethics commission. The commission members will oversee the conduct of legislators, statewide officials, candidates and lobbyists. The commission is seen as key to implementing a constitutional amendment to overhaul North Dakota's government ethics, despite the Republican-led Legislature's successful push of its own bill that lawmakers believed met the requirements of the ballot measure that voters approved last year.
The North Dakota Legislature passed its first anti-abortion laws in six years but they are not being enforced because of legal challenges. The state's sole abortion clinic in Fargo sued in June over a measure requiring physicians to tell women that they may reverse a so-called medication abortion if they have second thoughts. The state has agreed to not enforce it until a federal judge rules. The other makes it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb. The law becomes effective if a federal court allows its enforcement.
North Dakota retailers for the first time since statehood may open Sunday mornings. After decades of debate and a growing belief voters would overturn the law rooted in religious tradition, North Dakota's Republican-led Legislature in March repealed the Sunday restrictions, the nation's toughest. Other notable new laws also took effect Aug. 1: People caught with a small amount of marijuana will no longer face jail time; vehicles may be left unattended and idling; and pets can't be passed off as service animals.
PARK LIBRARY, REFINERY
North Dakota's Legislature voted to spend public money for a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library in the western part of the state. The project has been a top priority of Gov. Doug Burgum. State legislators in April approved $50 million to operate the library, but that must be matched by $100 million in private money, which has yet to be raised. Roosevelt spent four years on a ranch in the North Dakota Badlands while in his 20s. The area is now a national park and the state's top tourist attraction. It isn’t the only major development proposed in the area. Just 3 miles (5 kilometers) from the park, an $800 million refinery is planned but legal challenges are pending by environmental groups and landowners who argue pollution from the factory will spoil scenery and air quality.