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ND double murder trial has 'more security concerns' than other cases, judge says

WILLISTON, N.D. -- A witness in Lamar Putney’s murder trial was stopped from testifying Thursday, Feb. 1, after the prosecution told the court she had been seen reading news accounts of the trial.

The witness was Regina Mallard, Putney’s girlfriend in 2016. She was in the apartment when two men, Diandre Lott and Donzell Washington, were shot and killed.

Putney claims he shot Lott and Washington in self-defense when they tried to rob him. His trial on two counts of murder started Monday and is expected to last until Feb. 9.

Mallard was preparing to testify Thursday afternoon when Nathan Madden, assistant state’s attorney for Williams County, asked Northwest District Judge Kirsten Sjue to address something with the jury out of the courtroom. Madden said an ATF agent who arranged Mallard’s travel saw Mallard reading news stories about Putney’s trial on Thursday morning.

Defense attorney Jeff Nehring asked Sjue to detain Mallard.

“The defense would ask that Ms. Mallard be held in the Williams County jail without access to communication devices until she’s released from her subpoena,” he said.

Mallard has been subpoenaed by both the prosecution and the defense.

Nehring also asked that the defense be allowed to bring up that Mallard had been reading about the trial during its questioning.

Sjue agreed to that, but demurred on holding Mallard.

“I’m generally not looking to hold people in custody any longer than I have to,” Sjue said.

Under questioning, Mallard said that she had read stories from the first several days of the trial.

Nehring asked if she remembered Madden telling her that she wasn’t to do research about the case or speak to anyone about her testimony.

She said she did, but that she wasn’t sure exactly what Madden had meant.

“I really didn’t know the parameters of it,” Mallard said. “I thought he meant it might upset me.”

She also told Nehring that she hadn’t sent anyone text messages about her testimony.

Nehring requested that the defense get a copy of the information on Mallard’s phone in order to see what she had read and whether she had communicated with anyone about the case.

Nehring and Madden agreed to have the Williston Police Department search Mallard’s phone and give both sides a report about the sites she had visited and text messages she had sent in the previous two days.

Madden asked Sjue that the report not be made public. A protective order covering two potential witnesses, identified in court documents only as Source 1 and Source 2, was issued in August that sealed some documents and prevented either side from discussing them.

Sjue said she wasn’t willing to order the report on the contents be kept secret without knowing what was on it.

It was not clear when Mallard would testify.

Mallard’s appearance was unusual compared to other witnesses, even in a trial that has featured heavier than usual security. Jurors and members of the public have been screened for weapons before being allowed in the courtroom, a departure from the normal procedure..

Law enforcement secured the perimeter of the Williams County Courthouse before Mallard was brought in. She entered the courtroom before the jury and came in through a door usually reserved for jurors and the judge.

Security was an issue multiple times on Thursday. Before the jury entered court Thursday morning, Madden said a witness had been approached the night before.

He claimed that Robert Putney, Lamar Putney’s brother, came up to Williston detective Sam Aide while Aide was exercising and mentioned the fact he was scheduled to testify Thursday. After court finished Thursday afternoon, Nehring said Robert Putney had told him that Aide was the one who approached him.

He also claimed that another officer, Sgt. Detective Dan Dery with the Williston police, had been followed and that the car possibly belonged to someone Lamar Putney knew.

Madden said he was concerned that when the prosecution was asked who it planned to call, that information was being used to possibly intimidate witnesses.

Nehring suggested that instead of giving the list in open court, Madden could give him a written list, which neither he nor co-counsel Hernando Perez would give to anyone else.

Sjue agreed that would be the best solution.

“This case has had more security concerns brought to my attention than I think any other case I’ve been personally involved in,” she said.