FARGO, N.D. (AP) — A man accused of killing two people at separate Fargo apartments less than a day apart didn’t know the second victim, who was bludgeoned to death with a hammer after he brought the suspect a glass of water, police said Wednesday.
Ashley Kenneth Hunter, 35, is charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of 45-year-old Clarence Flowers and 24-year-old Samuel Traut. Hunter also is charged with arson for allegedly trying to burn down the apartment where Traut lived.
A judge on Wednesday afternoon denied bail for Hunter, who told the court in a video appearance from jail that he could not have committed the killings and that he didn’t even know the second victim. His court-appointed attorney, Monty Mertz, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Police said Hunter had been involved in drug deals with Flowers, who was stabbed more than 50 times in his apartment Monday afternoon. They said Hunter didn’t know Traut, who lived directly behind a residence where Hunter was staying and was beaten to death on his back porch early Tuesday.
Traut “met a tragic end by simply opening his door,” Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said at a news conference Wednesday.
Traut was a recent North Dakota State University engineering graduate from Sartell, Minnesota, and was active in the campus group “Bison Catholic” at the Newman Center, said the Rev. James Cheney, the center’s director. The apartment where Traut lived is on the same block as the Newman Center and owned by the Fargo Catholic Diocese.
“Samuel Traut was one of those standouts in our program,” Cheney said, fighting back tears. “Samuel Traut was a man of tremendous virtue.”
Police said Hunter was a methamphetamine user and that could have been a factor in the attack. They said he told officers the drugs made him paranoid and that he killed Traut because he feared Traut would call police.
According to court documents, Hunter said he had the hammer with him when he knocked on Traut’s door.
Hunter has an extensive criminal record that includes charges for assault, theft, disorderly conduct, forgery and shoplifting. Court documents show that Hunter had recently eluded police “multiple times” when they tried to pull him over in a stolen pickup truck.
Homicides are rare in Fargo, which has 105,000 residents and is North Dakota’s largest city. Three killings were reported in 2013 and four in 2014. The deaths of Flowers and Traut are the second and third homicides this year.
“I’m not really just ready to say that Fargo is changing completely and that people need to be afraid,” Fargo Police Chief Dave Todd said. “With our population, our crime rate is relatively low in comparison to other cities our size.”
Police said Hunter told them that he was upset with Flowers for stealing all his girlfriends, overcharging him for drugs and showing him a lack of respect. Police believe other people were with Hunter around the time Flowers was killed and more charges could come.
Shortly after Flowers’ body was found Monday afternoon, police sent a bulletin that called Hunter a person of interest, included his name and photo, and asked the public for help in locating the stolen pickup. The truck was found later that afternoon at a downtown Fargo apartment, but Hunter was not there.
Traut’s body was discovered after firefighters responded to a call shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday. Police found Hunter at the nearby residence about 7 a.m. Tuesday.
“At that time, Ashley Hunter appeared on the sidewalk and announced that he was the guy we were looking for, and gave himself up,” Todd said.
Traut became the second Sartell, Minnesota, native to be killed in the Fargo metropolitan area since last fall. NDSU student Thomas Bearson died in September of what police have called “homicidal violence.” His body was found in neighboring Moorhead, Minnesota, and the case remains unsolved.
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