The defendant in a Wahpeton murder case was sentenced Thursday, July 2 to 20 years in the custody of the North Dakota Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Adam Christopher Awender, 39, appeared in Richland County District Court, Wahpeton. The Wahpeton man is charged with one count of murder, with extreme indifference, of an adult victim, a class AA felony. His charge was in connection with a death in Wahpeton.

Billy Joe Phillips, Wahpeton, died March 25, 2019 after being stabbed in the chest. A knife pierced the top of his heart, Daily News previously reported. Phillips also received a severe stab wound to his leg.

Family members for Phillips and Awender both appeared before Judge Bradley Cruff. They gave statements about how the death impacted the lives of themselves and their extended family.

Awender himself did not make a statement. Judge Cruff noted both this and an “glaring” excerpt of the pre-sentencing investigation.

There was nothing about Billy Joe Phillips, Cruff said about Awender’s comments. They have been about Awender, how he was affected, how his family was affected. Awender, Cruff said, did not take the opportunity to apologize. He showed “no empathy whatsoever” toward Phillips or his family.

Awender has been given credit for 465 days previously served in jail. He was also sentenced to 10 years supervised probation, to follow his confinement and ordered to pay $960 in fees. As a condition of Awender’s probation, he is to have no contact with Phillips’ family.

Phillips had never met Awender prior to the evening he died, Richland County Assistant State’s Attorney Megan Kummer said. According to the prosecution, Phillips had no idea what was going to occur and once Phillips died, Awender’s subsequent conduct did not match how anyone would act had it been an accident.

Attorney Erica Chisholm reiterated the defense’s claim that if Awender had gone to Phillips’ apartment with the intent to commit harm, he would not have brought a second individual. Awender, Chisholm said, only went there to pick up a person he cared about. She also said he apologizes to the Phillips family for their loss.

It is his opinion, Judge Cruff said, that Awender took the law into his own hands. Both Awender and the individual he came to pick up could have called law enforcement if the situation warranted it. Cruff also agreed with the prosecution’s statement that Awender’s actions were not consistent with an accident situation.

Awender did not provide aid to Phillips after the stabbing, Cruff said. He fled from the scene and subsequently destroyed or concealed evidence.

In March 2020, Awender entered a guilty plea to the murder charge. Because of this, a scheduled trial was cancelled. Prior to Judge Cruff’s decision, the prosecution was requesting Awender receive a 20-year sentence with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The defense was requesting a five-year sentence.

In addition to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the case was investigated by the Wahpeton Police Department and Richland County Sheriff’s Office.

The maximum penalty for a class AA felony is life imprisonment without parole.

Awender is currently confined in the Richland County Jail.

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