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Court upholds conviction of West Fargo landlord who ran over tenant with Hummer

WEST FARGO - A court opinion issued on Wednesday dashed Alois Vetter's hopes of avoiding prison time for running over his former tenant with his Hummer in West Fargo.

But the 75-year-old landlord still insisted he won't spend time behind bars.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," he said in a phone interview. "But I know one thing - I'm not going to serve any time. And that's where we're at."

Asked to clarify, he said, "You read into it whatever you want."

The North Dakota Supreme Court upheld Vetter's aggravated assault conviction, which carried a mandatory minimum of two years in prison because a Cass County jury found his Hummer constituted a dangerous weapon.

Justices also found sufficient evidence to convict Vetter of running over 31-year-old Brian Hemphill in February 2011.

When reached at home Wednesday afternoon, Vetter said he hadn't heard about the opinion being issued and was "real surprised" by it.

"This'll kill me. The world's gonna come collapse on me. I am real frail the way it is. I don't know if I can handle it," he said.

Vetter collapsed in court on Jan. 9, 2012, when Judge Steven McCullough sentenced him to two years in prison followed by one year of probation. Vetter also was convicted of felony reckless endangerment.

McCullough allowed Vetter to remain free on $25,000 cash bail while his appeal was pending. Assistant State's Attorney Reid Brady objected, noting police had received reports that Vetter would commit suicide rather than be incarcerated.

Vetter said Wednesday that he previously received a letter through his appellate attorney, Dan Gast, from the judge giving him six weeks to report to prison from the date when an opinion was issued.

Gast and prosecutors could not be reached for comment.

In his appeal, Vetter argued that automobiles aren't included in the list of "dangerous weapons" in state law and shouldn't be considered as such.

Justices found the state's characterization of the law - which includes the catch-all phrase "but is not limited to" - comports closer to the plain language of the law and allows jurors to determine whether an object is a dangerous weapon based on how it's used.

"We cannot say a vehicle may never be considered a dangerous weapon" under the law, the opinion stated.

Vetter continued to profess his innocence Wednesday, saying he used the Hummer in self-defense and that the victim confronted him in the middle of the street in a "drug-infested area" in front of Vetter's rental duplex in the 600 block of Second Street West.

"He attacked my Hummer. Why am I being charged? He should be charged," Vetter said.

Brady noted at trial that Vetter owned six properties on the street and his family owned the Sunset Motel around the corner.

The Supreme Court found that the evidence supported the jury's finding that Vetter intentionally drove his Hummer forward while Hemphill backpedaled. Prosecutors said Hemphill was pushed back 86 feet by the Hummer before he fell and was run over. He survived, suffering a collapsed lung, broken ribs and abrasions.

Vetter said Wednesday that the charges were West Fargo's attempt "to get even with me" for a lawsuit he filed against the city and a developer over what he claimed was the illegal platting and special assessment of his land. The case was dismissed last February.

He also complained that his trial attorney didn't use the evidence they had.

"The whole damn thing was a kangaroo court," he said.