Guilty plea entered in Pennington County shooting case

Trevor Lee Brown

by April Scheinoha

    A guilty plea was entered Friday, Oct. 21 in the case of a Thief River Falls man accused of shooting another man at a 2015 party in rural Pennington County.
    Trevor Lee Brown, 24, pled guilty to felony first degree assault. Felony charges of second degree attempted murder and reckless discharge of a firearm were dismissed. The plea was an open plea, meaning that the attorneys can argue for a sentence that they deem fit. Sentencing has been set for Monday, Dec. 12.
    The plea was entered on a Norgard basis, meaning that   Brown was unable to recall some details of the case since he was intoxicated or had blacked out. In his initial statement to law enforcement, Brown said he sometimes blacks out when he is mad. When entering the plea, he said he was intoxicated and couldn’t recall some details of the incident.
    On Aug. 9, 2015, Brown and three friends arrived uninvited at a party at the rural Plummer home of Bob and Darlene Houle. After a fight involving other people, he shot a round into the air. Ryan Houle then tackled him. The two men fought over the gun. Brown shot Ryan Houle twice in the chest, causing a collapsed lung. One of the shots also injured Houle’s left hand. He was hospitalized for 31 days at Sanford Hospital in Fargo, N.D.
    Brown acknowledged that he had no reason to doubt the testimony of Ryan Houle or Houle’s sister Robyn Almendarez about the incident. He said that he didn’t remember pulling the trigger. Brown acknowledged that he shot Houle on purpose.
    The plea came after testimony Thursday in the case. Houle testified at that time. Shortly after taking the stand and starting to testify about Brown shooting him in the chest the first time, Houle said he needed a break.
    Houle left the stand and exited the courtroom. Judge Kurt Marben then excused the jury. After the recess, Brown’s attorney, Blair Nelson, requested a mistrial, saying he had never seen such a thing and he questioned whether his client could have a fair trial afterward.
    Kristin  Hanson, assistant Pennington County attorney, replied that she has seen witnesses break down on the stand in the past. She indicated that the court has taken a break in those instances. Hanson said it wasn’t intentional.
    Marben denied that motion. He said he thought it would be more detrimental to the defense if Houle remained in front of the jury.
    A short time later, Nelson again requested a mistrial after Houle contradicted his statement to authorities a month after the shooting. In his statement, Houle said it was the first shot in his direction that hit him in the chest and struck his hand.
    In court, he  testified it was the second shot in which Brown backed up and pointed the gun at his face. He said he tried to bat the gun away and was shot in the chest and hand. When explaining the discrepancy, he said he was on painkillers at the time of the statement. Houle testified he was remembering more of the incident and had notified Hanson of the change about a month before the trial.
    Soon afterward, Nelson told Marben that information hadn’t been disclosed to him if the conversation had occurred. He said that lack of information prejudiced his preparation for the trial.
    Hanson replied that she had provided emails to Nelson about what each witness had and hadn’t said to her. She said she would have to check her emails. Hanson added that, if the information hadn’t been provided to Nelson, it wasn’t intentional.
    Nelson then said that Hanson seemed surprised when Houle testified it was second, not first, shot.
    Marben then gave Hanson an opportunity to check her emails. Court was later adjourned after both sides met with him in chambers. The next morning, Brown entered his plea.