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West Fargo landlord collapses when sentenced to prison for running down ex-tenant

West Fargo landlord Alois Vetter leaves the Cass County Courthouse Monday in Fargo, following his sentencing. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - A 74-year-old landlord who was convicted of running over a former tenant with his Hummer collapsed in dramatic fashion Monday in a Cass County courtroom when a judge sentenced him to two years in prison.

Alois Vetter of West Fargo was helped to his feet after collapsing and made it through the rest of the hearing before deputies pushed him out of the courtroom in a wheelchair.

Vetter maintained he did not mean to run over 31-year-old Brian Hemphill and begged Judge Steven McCullough to allow him to avoid prison time.

His aggravated assault conviction carried a mandatory minimum of two years in prison because the jury that heard the case in an October trial found that his Hummer constituted a dangerous weapon. He was also found guilty of felony reckless endangerment.

McCullough sentenced Vetter to three years in prison, of which he must serve two years followed by one year of probation.

Vetter won't head straight to prison. McCullough stayed the sentence until the appeal is heard by the North Dakota Supreme Court, which will likely take six to 18 months, said Vetter's attorney, Daniel Gast.

Vetter's family immediately posted $25,000 cash bail for his release after the sentencing hearing.

During the hearing, Vetter collapsed before the judge could finish pronouncing his sentence. When the words "three years" came out of McCullough's mouth, Vetter's closed eyes popped open wide and he tried to brace himself on the defense table before falling over to his right side onto the courtroom floor. His wife and daughter rushed to his aide, and the judge ordered them to sit down and let law officers help him up.

Prosecutor Reid Brady objected to the stay of sentence, noting that West Fargo police have received reports that Vetter would commit suicide rather than be incarcerated.

"He will say and do anything to avoid appropriate punishment for his crime and delay this case," said Brady, an assistant Cass County state's attorney.

Speaking on his own behalf, Vetter told the judge that the case was full of untruths. He referred to Hemphill being in the middle of the road when the incident occurred.

"He was illegal there. Why am I charged and he isn't?" Vetter said.

Hemphill, who was in the courtroom, did not speak when given the chance.

Gast, who was recently hired after Vetter fired his trial attorney, noted this was Vetter's first conviction of a violent crime. He said it wouldn't have happened if Hemphill - whom Vetter had evicted - hadn't walked out into the street.

But Assistant State's Attorney Cherie Clark said Vetter had been patrolling the 600 block of Second Avenue West, where he owns several rental properties and the Sunset Motel around the corner.

"Walking out into the street is not strong provocation," Clark said. "The defendant injected himself into this activity."

Clark, who recommended that Vetter serve half of a five-year sentence, said prosecutors were satisfied with the prison sentence.

"He claims that it was the victim's fault, it's the police's fault, it's the state's attorney's fault. He has never once taken responsibility for his actions," Clark said.

McCullough said Vetter's version of events "is not credible," and Hemphill wasn't a viable threat. At the heart of the case, he said, was Vetter's lack of "anger management."

Prior to sentencing, McCullough denied defense motions for acquittal and a new trial, after Gast argued that a vehicle didn't constitute a dangerous weapon under state law.