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Murder plot or deal turned deadly? Attorneys spell out drastic differences in fatal Williston shootings

Defense attorney Jeff Nehring, left, shows a document to former Williston (N.D.) police officer Benjamin Williams during Lamar Putney's murder trial Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. Nehring questioned the way evidence was handled during the investigation into the shooting death of two men in Putney's apartment in May 2016. Williston Herald photo

WILLISTON, N.D. — During opening arguments Tuesday, Jan. 30, in Lamar Putney's trial on two counts of murder, the prosecution and defense offered two vastly different interpretations of a double shooting more than 18 months ago.

In his address to the jury, Nathan Madden, Williams County assistant state's attorney, said Putney planned to meet with Diandre Lott, and that in advance of that meeting, Putney hid guns throughout the kitchen area of his Williston apartment. Putney told police that Lott was going to buy a car from him.

"His claim basically was that he considered Mr. Lott to be sketchy, and this was going to be a cash transaction," Madden said.

Putney told police that after he'd allowed Lott and Donzell Washington to each hold a pistol, Lott pointed a gun at him and started to rob him. Putney pulled out a Ruger .45-caliber pistol and fired three shots. That gun jammed and Putney picked up a Sig Sauer pistol, also chambered in .45-caliber, and fired eight more times.

Madden said Putney's story changed multiple times throughout the investigation, and that Putney rearranged evidence at the scene of the shooting.

Madden also claimed Putney didn't mention that he actually used three guns, rather than two, during the shooting, and that he hid the third gun.

Jeff Nehring, Putney's lawyer, started his opening statement by characterizing Lott and Washington as dangerous men with criminal records. Lott pleaded guilty to robbing the Williston McDonalds in 2013 and was put on supervised probation.

"Diandre's not the kind of guy who follows the rules," Nehring said, and claimed that even while Lott was on probation, he and Washington were selling large amounts of pain pills.

On May 17, 2016, Putney arranged to meet Lott to sell a 2002 Audi. When Lott came to Putney's apartment that morning, he brought Washington with him.

The conversation turned to guns, and at one point, Putney allowed the two men to handle pistols. When Lott asked to buy a gun, Putney refused.

"That's when things turn horribly wrong," Nehring said.

Lott pointed a gun at Putney and said the pair were going to take the guns, Nehring said. Putney's girlfriend, who was in the apartment along with Putney's young son, got scared and Putney ordered her to go to the bedroom.

Then, Nehring said, Putney shot Lott and Washington. Nehring had an explanation for the third gun. He said the gun belonged to Putney's girlfriend and that when she came out of the bedroom after the shooting, she fired a shot.

Nehring told the jury that he was confident that by the end of the trial they would agree this was a case of self defense.

"The state is not going to be able to prove that Lamar did not act reasonably in defending himself, (his son) and (his girlfriend)," Nehring said.

Much of the testimony Tuesday was from the first officers who responded to a 911 call placed by Putney's girlfriend.

Michael Isenhower, a patrol officer with the Williston police, testified about what Putney told him in the moments after police arrived. Madden asked Isenhower about the differences between the story Putney told the day of the shooting and the story the defense now claims.

Isenhower testified that Putney only told him that he'd given Lott a pistol and didn't mention giving one to Washington.

During his cross-examination, Nehring asked Isenhower if he'd taken notes or made a recording of his conversation with Putney, and Isenhower said he had not.

"So what you're telling the jury today is based on your memory alone, written eight hours later?" Nehring asked.

Isenhower, Deputy Adam Bratt, who in May 2016 was a sergeant with the Williston police; former Williston officer Benjamin Williams and former Williston officer Joshua Hilgart all testified that Putney seemed calm when they arrived at his apartment building.

In his cross-examination of the four officers who testified Tuesday, Nehring asked about the way evidence was handled, as well as asking questions about self-defense.

"When there's a threat involving a gun, how much time do you have?" Nehring asked Hilgart.

"Very, very little," Hilgart said.

Madden had a follow-up question for each officer.

"Have you ever responded to a robbery where the purported victim gave the purported robbers guns and then claimed they used (those) guns to rob him?" he asked.

All four said they had not.

Nehring questioned Williams about the way evidence was logged. Williams testified he'd made a list of the evidence at the scene and helped carry it downstairs.

Nehring introduced a letter from the state's attorney's office saying there was no log of evidence from the scene.

Williams said his notes weren't an official log, but he'd kept them and turned them over to other officers.

"In report, you specifically said you created a command log?" Nehring asked.

"Yes," Williams said.

Putney's trial is scheduled to resume today at 9 a.m.