A Wells County man has yet to enter pleas to a series of felony charges, including attempted murder, in connection to an alleged drug sales operation in that county.
Alexander Lail is charged with eleven felonies in the case – a case that includes allegations of crimes by the man who was sheriff at the time, Johnny Lawson.
Jim Olson was in the Fessenden courtroom recently as the prosecution laid out some of its case against Lail and reports on what the state claims, and what the defense has to say about it.
The preliminary hearing began in the morning and lasted all day on December 18th, as the state presented evidence designed to convince Southeast District Judge Daniel Narum that Alexander Lail should be held for trial. He’s accused of selling meth – and providing some to the sheriff at the time, Johnny Lawson. In the hearing, the key witness was Bureau of Criminal Investigation Agent Craig Zachmeier. He told of a slowly increasing belief that Lail was committing crimes and relying on a friendship with the sheriff to get away with them. He quoted from an interview with a witness named Stephen Kelly.
(Craig Zachmeier, BCI Agent) “Alex Lail admitted to Stephen Kelly that he had been providing Sheriff Lawson with meth, that Alex Lail claimed he had the law in his back pocket.”
Zachmeier testified that he was told of several crimes committed by Lail, including choking a woman with such force that he pushed her through a sheetrock wall.
(Kathleen Murray) “While she was being choked she actually got pushed through the wall?” (Craig Zachmeier) “Not hit through the wall but pushed with so much force that it broke out the sheetrock.”
Lail is charged with 11 felonies, including five class-A felonies, each carrying a maximum 20 year prison sentence. Two of those class-A felonies are for attempted murder. The prosecution says Lail tried to hire at least two different people to kill his ex-wife and a former employee.
(Craig Zachmeier, BCI Agent) “Alexander Lail offered $25,000 to $30,000 to kill Donna Lail.”
Lail is also accused, along with two others, of heating an ice auger and using it to burn the inside thigh and genital area of Jason Thomas, a man who died of cancer soon after the attack but only after recording an interview with the BCI accusing Lail of the crime.
Through it all, defense attorney Steven Mottinger maintained that the charges are flimsy — coming from people themselves involved in the alleged conspiracy.
(Steven Mottinger, Defense Attorney) “What they’re doing is throwing everything they’ve got up against the wall and hoping that something sticks. That isn’t the way we should do business.”
He especially fought against the attempted murder charges.
(Steven Mottinger, Defense Attorney) “All we got is talk. It might be a lot of things, but it’s not attempted murder.”
But the prosecutor said the charges all have merit and argued that the attempted murder charges make sense.
(Kathleen Murray, Prosecutor) “They could have killed him and followed through and told him he owed them money, and he told more than one person to do it.
In the end, Judge Narum sided with the prosecution
(Daniel Narum, District Judge) “Based on the testimony there is probable cause to bind this matter over to trial.”
But as of today, there have been no pleas entered by Lail, and no firm trial dates established.
Jim Olson, KX news.
The case against former sheriff Johnny Lawson includes two felony charges.
He’s due in court for a preliminary hearing in about two weeks.