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Published March 19, 2012, 04:09 PM

Man Found Guilty in Fargo Movie Theater Shooting

FARGO – Cass County jurors on Monday found Felipe Estrada guilty of four felonies in a shooting at the West Acres Cinema last summer but spared him an attempted murder conviction that could have put him in prison for life.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications

FARGO – Cass County jurors on Monday found Felipe Estrada guilty of four felonies in a shooting at the West Acres Cinema last summer but spared him an attempted murder conviction that could have put him in prison for life.

Estrada, 45, of Dilworth, shot the ex-husband of his ex-girlfriend seven times, but he claimed during a four-day trial last week he was acting in self defense.

After about nine hours of deliberation, jurors convicted him of two counts each of aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. Under state law, he faces a minimum of four years in prison on the assault convictions and two years for the endangerment counts.

He had faced an attempted murder charge linked to Juan Carlos Garza, who he shot seven times on June 5 in the theater parking lot. But the jury found him guilty of a lesser offense on that count, which was one of the two convictions for aggravated assault.

“We really believe the evidence showed attempted murder, but the aggravated assault is certainly a good verdict, also,” Assistant Cass County State’s Attorney Gary Euren said. “He’s going to be looking at quite a bit of time.”

The aggravated assault on Garza is a Class C felony, which normally carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. But because the jury deemed Estrada an especially dangerous offender for using a firearm, he faces up to 10 years for the conviction.

Had the jury convicted Estrada of attempted murder and found him especially dangerous, he could have faced up to life in prison, Euren said.

Estrada also faces up to 10 years for the aggravated assault on Charles Roskom, which was charged as a Class B felony because of the permanent damage to Roskom when Estrada hit him in the skull with the butt of his handgun. Roskom testified at trial that a piece of his skull had to be replaced with a titanium screen and he has slight memory loss.

Each reckless endangerment charged carries up to five years in prison, one of which was linked to a shot fired into the West Acres theater as matinees were showing on a Sunday.

As he waited for the verdict, Estrada closed his eyes and rested his head against his folded hands. He stood and hung his head as the convictions were read aloud. On the way out of the courtroom, he glared at Garza, who sat behind the prosecution.

Defense attorney Steven Mottinger said he was pleased his client wasn’t convicted of attempted murder, but he called it a “bittersweet” verdict for Estrada, who is not a U.S. citizen and faces potential deportation because of the violent felony convictions.

Asked if he was disappointed the jury didn’t completely buy Estrada’s self-defense argument, Mottinger said, “I don’t know what else we could have done differently.”

“We did the best we could with what we had to work with. It was just a really tough set of facts,” Mottinger said.

The jury of seven men and five women began to deliberate Friday afternoon before returning a verdict on Monday about 2:15 p.m.

Jury leader Tim Mathern, a Fargo state lawmaker who ran for governor in 2008, said jurors couldn’t agree whether the evidence met the standard for a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on the attempted murder charge.

“The jury did deliberate over two days, which I think is a clear message that the jurors had a lot of information to deal with, and many charges to deal with, and there was an expression of many points of view,” Mathern said. “In the totality, there were just many complicating features.”

Euren said he was “a little bit” surprised by the verdict, but was gratified that jurors found Estrada especially dangerous.

Prosecutors alleged that one of the bullets fired by Estrada broke a window of the movie theater during a busy Sunday matinee. That bullet and the shots fired at his ex-girlfriend, DeShawn Stodola, led to the reckless endangerment charges.

“A lot of people were endangered,” Euren said.

Judge Wade Webb ordered a pre-sentence investigation. A sentencing date hasn’t been set.

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