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Officer takes stand in Dahl trial

Officer Shane Aberle took the witness stand Wednesday and, at the request of Steele County's prosecutor, strapped on state's exhibit No. 62 -- a green Kevlar helmet scarred white where investigators extracted five shotgun pellets.

It was that helmet that protected Aberle when he and other SWAT team members moved in on a Luverne, N.D., house where Darin Dahl was holed up.

Aberle, a Fargo officer called to the scene to assist local lawmen, told jurors of how he stood near the home and, through an open window, hit Dahl in the leg with a "less-lethal" round. A short time later, Aberle said, he peeked over the window ledge and saw Dahl walking toward him.

"As I duck down, I feel something slap my helmet," he said. "And my ear starts ringing."

Aberle said he knew he'd been shot and was able to radio for help. He estimated the round was fired from 10 to 15 feet away.

Dahl was arrested soon after, ending the 22-hour standoff on April 10, 2008.

The 35-year-old from Cooperstown, N.D., appeared in state District Court Wednesday for a second day of trial on charges of attempted murder and felony reckless endangerment.

Judge Steven Marquart ruled last week that Dahl -- who was unruly at a prior hearing and, according to a court document, has "a history of emotional and psychological problems" -- is fit to stand trial.

In questioning the prosecution's witnesses, defense attorney Blake Hankey has been broaching the subject of his client's mental state during the standoff.

Hankey had Fargo police Lt. Pat Claus, who commanded Aberle and other Red River Valley SWAT officers, read from a report that said Dahl "would talk in circles about personal issues," "would get upset without reason" and "was very upset and seemed confused" when negotiators spoke with him on the phone.

Claus also said Dahl asked to be taken to MeritCare hospital in Fargo to get help.

Negotiator Marcia Procopio -- who, because of time, was only questioned by the prosecution -- testified that Dahl told her he was holding a gun to his head and was contemplating suicide.

"There were many times that he said that he should just end it or kill himself," she said.

If the defense is able to show that Dahl may have been suffering mental "distortions" around the time of the standoff, the prosecution would have the burden to prove otherwise and the jury would have the option of finding Dahl not guilty due to mental defect, Hankey said outside of court.

Hankey also seems to be laying groundwork for a self-defense argument.

While being question by the defense, state investigator Arnie Rummel testified that he overheard Dahl tell negotiators that he thought someone was trying to kill him and didn't believe it was police outside the house. SWAT leaders testified that their team members wore camouflage, but that their uniforms were marked with "police" in several places.

Procopio said she told Dahl that officers were outside and that if he came out of the house he wouldn't be harmed.

"He made numerous comments about not wanting to go back to jail," she said. "He wanted us to promise him that he was only going to get a certain amount of time."

State's Attorney Charlie Stock has pointed to these comments as evidence that Dahl understood the situation.

Scott Edinger, commander of the James Valley SWAT team, testified that Dahl tried to manipulate authorities during the standoff.

"It was apparent to me that he was playing games with the negotiators," Edinger said. "He obviously knew what was going on."