Hillsboro man sentenced on child porn charges

HILLSBORO, N.D. (FNS) — A Hillsboro man will spend 20 months behind bars after authorities said they found more than 200 images of suspected child porn on his phone last month.

Joshua Ray Messer, 34, pleaded guilty Wednesday, Nov. 20, in Traill County District Court to two of 10 Class C felony counts of possessing certain materials prohibited by law. The other charges were dismissed in the settlement.

The charges stemmed from an Oct. 2 search of Messer’s cellphone, according to court documents. Law enforcement said they found 237 images that they suspected were child porn, the court documents said.

Seven images were confirmed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to depict sexual acts involving children, the documents said.

Judge Susan Bailey gave Messer two concurrent sentences of five years in prison, the maximum for each charge. He will serve 20 months and be released on supervised probation for three years.

Bismarck man convicted of molesting girl

BISMARCK (FNS) – A Burleigh County jury on Thursday found a Bismarck man guilty of molesting a young girl during incidents two years ago in a shed at his residence and in a camper parked on his property.

Russell Walbert, 64, now faces the possibility of a 20-year sentence on each of four counts of gross sexual imposition. Walbert was charged this summer with molesting a girl younger than 10 in alleged incidents in 2017. He has been held in the Burleigh Morton Detention Center since being charged.

The next step in the case is a mandatory pre-sentence investigation that will include a sex offender risk assessment. Sentencing will be scheduled after the investigation. Walbert is being held without bail.

Prosecutors in Morton County last week filed two charges of gross sexual imposition against Walbert for alleged incidents involving another girl from 2001 to 2004. A Dec. 16 preliminary hearing is set in that case.

Proposed politics policy for ND higher ed advances

BISMARCK (FNS) — Higher education leaders in North Dakota plan to split policy on avoiding the appearance of schools and their employees and students supporting political candidates and measures into two parts, and students will have to wait some time before their part of the proposal is finished.

The State Board of Higher Education Governance Committee gave preliminary approval on Wednesday, Nov. 20, to a political activities policy that revises a 1984 policy. The revisions explain prohibited activity for faculty, staff, SBHE members and other employees but also lay out protections for North Dakota University System employees while they are off duty.

Committee members discussed the proposed changes at a previous meeting but decided to table it until they could gather input from students. Speaking to students was very helpful, NDUS attorney Eric Olson said, but he added it made staff realize the policy should be split into parts.

The proposal from Wednesday’s meeting focuses on NDUS employees and SBHE members, Olson said. A second policy for students will be developed over the next several months, he said.

A University of North Dakota hockey game during the Frozen Four tournament in 2016 prompted the change, according to NDUS Compliance Officer Karol Riedman.

The UND Fighting Hawks won the NCAA championship in April 2016, just months before the primary and general elections for the North Dakota gubernatorial race.

Numerous North Dakota officials and several candidates were in Tampa Bay to celebrate the win, and some took pictures with the team, Riedman said.

But Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who was running for governor in 2016, wasn’t there, she said. In what she called an innocent idea, someone suggested cheerleaders take a photo with a Stenehjem for governor shirt, Riedman said. That photo was posted on social media, she said.

“Then we got a complaint about making it look like UND and the team were supporting a certain candidate over another,” she said.

With 59 percent of the vote, Fargo businessman Doug Burgum defeated Stenehjem in the 2016 primary election on the Republican ticket for governor, despite the latter receiving the GOP endorsement. Paul Sorum of Fargo also was in the race but received 2 percent of the primary election vote.

Burgum got nearly 77 percent of the general election vote, defeating state Rep. Marvin Nelson, a Democrat from Rolla, N.D., who was unchallenged in the primary election and who received 20 percent of the vote in the general election.

Burgum also defeated Marty Riske, a Libertarian from Fargo who got 4 percent of the general election vote.

Reidman said the current policy regarding higher education officials and potential political endorsement doesn’t provide guidance on the situation.

Olson said NDUS officials would like to see the policy updated before the 2020 election.

The SBHE will review the policy at a future meeting before deciding whether to approve it.

Two killed in head-on collision in southern MN

CLAREMONT, Minn. (FNS) — Two people were killed in a head-on crash with semi-trailer Wednesday evening on U.S. Highway 14 in Dodge County.

The crash occurred shortly after 6 p.m. near Claremont, which is about 30 miles west of Rochester.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, the driver of a Ford Fusion heading east on Highway 14 crossed the centerline of the two-lane highway and collided head on with a semi heading west. The semi went into the north ditch of the highway, rolled on its side and the cab caught fire. The semi was carrying 27,000 pounds of fertilizer, the Patrol said.

The driver of the semi escaped serious injury, the Patrol said. The driver and passenger of the Ford Fusion, a 57-year-old man and a 52-year-old woman, both of New Richland, Minn., were pronounced dead on the scene. The highway was closed for several hours.

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