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New review again backs self-defense in fatal 2011 stabbing

FARGO - A Cass County prosecutor is standing by her decision not to charge the man who stabbed 28-year-old Tremaine Settles to death during a fight last year at a south Fargo apartment.

In a letter to Settles' mother, Assistant State's Attorney Leah Viste wrote that she reviewed the case "several times," but it didn't change her position.

"In this case the self-defense and defense of property issues simply cannot be disproven with the existing evidence," Viste wrote in the letter, dated Monday and released Thursday to The Forum.

Settles' mother, Margaret Brown, pushed for the review after prosecutors in January declined to charge 34-year-old Billy Oliver in the stabbing death Sept. 11, 2011, at 2608 Pacific Drive S.

"I know the decision to decline prosecuting this case makes the experience of losing your son even more painful, and for that I am truly sorry," Viste wrote in the letter.

At the time of the killing, Settles' ex-girlfriend, Rebecca Genia, and their two sons were living in the apartment with Oliver, her then-boyfriend with whom she also had a son.

Settles didn't like Oliver raising his children, according to police interviews contained in the investigative file reviewed by The Forum.

Shortly after midnight on the night of the killing, Settles sent an expletive-filled text message to Genia stating, "Im going over here 2 (mess) some (stuff) up i can't take this (stuff) (screw) everything."

Oliver told police that Settles came to the apartment and started the fight by hitting him in the face with a brick. Police believe Settles was stabbed at around 1:25 to 1:30 a.m.

In her letter, Viste addressed several questions raised by Brown, including why the brick - which appeared to have blood on it - wasn't tested for DNA evidence. Brown believed such testing could prove whether her son indeed started the fight, but Viste wrote that testing of the brick "would not change the analysis of this case."

"Regardless of the outcome of the test, the self-defense and defense of property issues remain," she wrote.

Brown also believed that blood marks found on a pair of shorts in Genia's apartment - marks that police reports stated "were clearly in the shape of a knife blade" and "would be consistent with someone wiping that blade off" - showed intent.

Viste wrote that given the surrounding circumstances and the significant amount of blood at the scene, "the wipe mark does not establish intent. If fact, it cannot be said with certainty that it is a knife print."

Oliver told police he threw the knife after the fight. It was never found, despite an extensive search by authorities.

In a phone interview Thursday, Brown said she expected Viste's decision but was surprised by how some of the responses to her questions seemed to pass the buck to Fargo police.

Brown's questions included why police interviewed Genia at the scene with her mother present; why Genia and Oliver weren't tested for drugs to determine their state of mind (Oliver admitted he'd smoked marijuana that evening); and why child protection wasn't called at the time of the killing.

Brown said she's still considering a wrongful death lawsuit and plans to pursue the case "as far as I can" with the U.S. Justice Department or other law enforcement agencies.

"I'll never let this go," she said.