- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 20, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A man convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in the shooting death of a northwest North Dakota hobby rancher wants the state Supreme Court to overturn his conviction.

Ryan Stensaker is serving life in prison with the possibility of parole in the spring 2013 death of 58-year-old Jack Sjol of Williston. Sjol’s body was found in a garbage dump, with bullet wounds to his head, face and upper left arm.

Stensaker was convicted in December 2014 after a trial that failed to answer why Sjol was killed.

Stensaker’s attorney, Mark Blumer, told state Supreme Court justices Tuesday that the state’s case was based on circumstantial evidence, and that prosecutors never presented a motive, KXMC-TV reported (https://bit.ly/1n9vHXh ). Prosecutors pointed to shell casings that matched a gun in Stensaker’s home, and that tire tracks at the crime scene matched the tires on his vehicle.

Blumer said those tires are common in the area and that forensic experts couldn’t say with absolute certainty that Stensaker’s gun fired the shells. Blumer was pressed by Justice Dale Sandstrom, who asked whether that evidence is “just an incredible coincidence.”

Any coincidence is “unfortunate,” Blumer said. He said none of that evidence proves that Stensaker had any relationship with Sjol. But Sandstrom said only two people could identify such a relationship, “and one would be dead, and one would be your client.”

Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle said “circumstantial evidence is sufficient” if the body of evidence is clear and compelling enough.

Prosecutor Nathan Madden said Stensaker’s conviction should be upheld. Justices will rule later.


Information from: KXMC-TV, https://www.kxnet.com

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