- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A man accused of gunning down nine cattle in an Oliver County pasture in 2012 will have a felony charge wiped from his record if he pays $5,000 in restitution and stays out of trouble for the next nine months.

Dillon Gappert wants to put the case behind him, attorney Chad McCabe said. But the cattle owners are upset that they weren’t consulted by prosecutors on either the agreement or the restitution, which John Dixon and Miles Tomac said won’t come close to covering their losses.

“I’m not real happy that us ranchers weren’t involved,” Dixon said. “They told us after the fact.”

Oliver County State’s Attorney John Mahoney said the case against Gappert was “thin,” with circumstantial evidence, no witnesses who saw Gappert pull the trigger and alibi witnesses who said Gappert was at a family function the night of the killings.

“We would have a very difficult time convincing a jury,” he said. “If we went to court and lost, there would be no restitution.”

Mahoney said he kept in close contact with the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association and that “I feel bad if (the ranchers) weren’t in the loop as much as they should have been.”

Gappert, 28, of Hensler, faced a criminal mischief charge that could have landed him in prison for up to 10 years had he been convicted. He had been scheduled for a jury trial next month, but he reached the agreement to resolve the case last week.

South Central District Judge John Grinsteiner approved the deal, saying in his order that it was “in the best interests of justice.” Sixty days after the end of the nine-month period, the charge will be dismissed and the case file will be sealed.

Gappert was accused of using a semi-automatic pistol to shoot and kill four cows, four calves and one yearling. Shell casings, tire tracks and a witness tied Gappert to the crime, North Dakota Stockmen’s Association investigator Fred Frederikson alleged in an affidavit. Frederikson estimated the cattle were worth “at least $12,000.”

Gappert maintains his innocence, according to his attorney.

“Mr. Gappert strongly disputes the state’s witness and circumstantial evidence and maintains that he was with his family celebrating Independence Day when the alleged events occurred,” McCabe said in a statement to the AP. “However, it was more desirable to end this matter and have it dismissed than to continue spending more time and resources towards a legal defense to show his innocence.”

Tomac said he thinks the deal Gappert struck with prosecutors shows guilt.

“I’m glad they caught the guy … so that he doesn’t do it to anybody else,” the rancher said.

A state-record reward of about $18,000 was offered for information leading to a conviction in the case. The Stockmen’s Association’s brand board will discuss next month whether a reward is justified, association Executive Vice President Julie Ellingson said.

Board Chairman Jeff Schafer said the association is glad that the ranchers will get some restitution.

“This was a senseless shooting that not only claimed nine head of cattle, but impacted the owners and deprived them of the revenue that they would have generated,” he said.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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