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Published April 19, 2012, 08:45 PM

ND Investigator Testifies About Informing Wacht a Severed Head was Found

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. - A state investigator testified today that when he informed Daniel Evan Wacht the severed head of missing North Dakota State University researcher Kurt Johnson had been dug up in a crawl space in Wacht's basement, the 31-year-old paused, his complexion turned red and he sunk down in his chair.

By: Mike Nowatzki, David Schwab, Forum Communications

COOPERSTOWN, N.D. - A state investigator testified today that when he informed Daniel Evan Wacht the severed head of missing North Dakota State University researcher Kurt Johnson had been dug up in a crawl space in Wacht's basement, the 31-year-old paused, his complexion turned red and he sunk down in his chair.

"He stated, 'I don't know anything about anything,'" Bureau of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Arnie Rummel said, recalling the Jan. 6, 2011, interview with Wacht at a jail in Jamestown.

Wacht had been arrested the day before, five days after Johnson was last seen alive getting into Wacht's van outside the Oasis Bar on New Year's Eve 2010. Wacht is accused of shooting Johnson in the forehead and decapitating him.

Rummel was the only witness to take the stand this morning in the third day of testimony in the murder trial.

He said investigators couldn't corroborate Wacht's claim that he dropped off Johnson outside the Fish Bowl Bar later that night. Rummel said investigators also talked to a witness who said Wacht knew where Johnson lived, which contradicts Wacht's statement in a Jan. 5, 2011, interview - before Johnson's head had been found - that he couldn't drop off Johnson at home because Johnson wouldn't tell him where he lived.

That 77-minute interview, played for the jury Wednesday, also was important because Wacht said his roommate, Russell Chamberlain, was out of town on New Year's Eve 2010, Rummel said.

"That takes Russell out of the equation as to being at the house. ... That puts Daniel in there by himself," he said.

Rummel also testified about the Glock 9-mm handgun Wacht had on him when he was arrested Jan. 5 and about the ammunition and other items found in Wacht's home.

However, Judge James Hovey wouldn't allow Rummel to testify about the gun's registration. With the the jury out of the courtroom, Griggs County State's Attorney Marina Spahr said the fact the gun was stolen in Las Vegas three weeks after Wacht's release from jail is significant because criminals are more likely to use stolen weapons to commit crimes because they're harder to trace.

But Mottinger said the gun refers to prior bad acts that the defense could only refute by putting Wacht on the stand. Hovey agreed there was a risk of "substantial prejudice" to Wacht if the testimony were allowed.

Hovey reserved judgment on whether the jury will be allowed to hear testimony about a cannister containing gunpowder and marbles found in Wacht's living room and what Spahr said was a bomb-making book. She said the evidence speaks to witness Jason Bolstad's testimony Wednesday that Wacht told him he wanted to start an Aryan Nation gang here and "that he was either going to blow something up or kill someone to prove that they were here."

But Mottinger said no one is alleging that Johnson's death had anything to do with a bomb. Hovey said he wasn't at the point yet to make a decision, but he said he's concerned that if he allows too much extraneous evidence pertaining to prior bad acts, "the jury may paint this defendant with an overly broad brush."

Meanwhile, Mottinger grilled Rummel about why investigators didn't find a shovel wedged under a chair and a pair of dirty gloves in a kitchen drawer when they searched Wacht's rented home on Jan. 5 and 6, 2011. The items were found about two weeks later by Chamberlain and his mother when they returned to the home to clean up and gather belongings.

Rummel said that because the shovel was wedged under the chair, it wouldn't have been seen even if the cushions were removed. The shovel apparently fell out when the chair was moved by Chamberlain or his mother, he said.

"It's possible nobody tipped it upside-down and looked at it," Rummel said.

As for the gloves, Rummel said it's not surprising that they wouldn't have been collected as evidence because his understanding was there was no blood on them. They also could have been missed, he said.

"Sometimes we do miss pieces of evidence. Sometimes they're hard to locate," he said.

The shovel was sent to the state crime lab, but it wasn't tested for DNA, blood or fingerprints because the amount of dirt on it would make analysis too difficult, Rummel said.

Mottinger asked if the dirt on the shovel was compared to the dirt in the crawl space where Johnson's head was unearthed. Rummel said it wasn't.

"So, we don't know if Daniel Wacht ever touched that shovel, do we?" Mottinger asked.

"No," Rummel replied.

Jurors also viewed photographs of Wacht's tattoos that Rummel said indicate his affiliation with the Aryan Nation or Aryan Brotherhood: an Iron Cross on his right forearm, a spiderweb-type tattoo on his left elbow and the initials FTW on his left chest area, which Rummel said is an acronym for Forever Truly White. Rummel said he also has seen a Swastika tattoo on Wacht's side and an SS tattoo on his stomach.

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