- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 18, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - The U.S. attorney general won’t seek the death penalty against two people charged in an alleged drug-related slaying in Grand Forks, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Krystal Feist and Modesto Torrez are charged with murder in furtherance of a drug trafficking conspiracy for the March death of 24-year-old Austin Forsman, of Grand Forks. Authorities say Feist shot Forsman while he sat in a vehicle at a truck stop. Torrez is accused of ordering the hit.

Their cases were automatically considered for capital punishment because investigators believe the shooting involved a drug deal. Feist’s attorney, Ted Sandberg, said he was not surprised at the ruling because prosecutors had recommended that Attorney General Loretta Lynch not seek the death penalty.

“I was surprised at the timing. I thought it would take a little bit longer to get an answer,” Sandberg said. “The final determination by the U.S. attorney general can take months and months and months. Personally I didn’t think we would get an answer until perhaps even after the election.”

Charles Stock, one of Torrez’s attorneys, said his defense team did not believe the death penalty was warranted.

“The government still has the burden of proving whether or to what extent - if at all - Mr. Torrez was even involved in either the murder or drug aspects of the conspiracy,” Stock said.

U.S. Attorney Christopher Myers declined to comment.

Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. is the only person in North Dakota who has been sentenced to death under federal law. He was convicted of kidnapping and killing University of North Dakota student Dru Sjodin in 2003. Rodriguez is housed on death row at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Prosecutors say the last death penalty eligible case in North Dakota involved the 2005 killing of Lee Avila in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. The government declined to seek capital punishment against five people who were charged in connection with Avila’s death. The triggerman in that case, Gabriel Martinez, was sentenced to life in prison.

Authorities say Feist, 31, and Torrez, 34, were involved in a drug ring that distributed mass quantities of methamphetamine in North Dakota and Minnesota. Both defendants are scheduled to be tried at the same time in May. They face life in prison without parole.

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