Ethan Martin Broad, 27, appeared Thursday, Feb. 18, in Clay County District Court via videoconference for a sentencing hearing. He pleaded guilty last month to a second-degree murder charge in connection to the April 3 death of his roommate, 19-year-old Dystynee Avery, at their Moorhead apartment, 1310 28th Ave. S.
Prosecutors were ready to recommend Broad be sentenced to more than 30 years in prison, but defense attorney Kenneth Kludt said Broad felt he didn’t enter his plea freely and knowingly. Broad told Kludt just before the hearing he should have the right to withdraw his plea and stand trial.
Clay County Judge Tammy Merkins will have to decide if Broad can legally withdraw his plea.
When defendants plead guilty, a judge must ask a list of questions to determine if they did so freely and knowingly. That includes asking defendants if they understand the rights they are giving up, if they are under the influence of drugs or if they have been coerced into pleading guilty.
Kludt did not give more specifics on the decision, but answers will likely emerge in future court filings.
Family members prepared to give victim impact statements appeared distraught by the news, with Avery’s mother shaking her head and holding her face in her hands.
Prosecutors said they need a chance to respond to the motion to withdraw Broad’s plea, meaning Broad's sentencing hearing is postponed until March 31. If Merkins finds Broad can't withdraw his plea, he will be sentenced on that day.
If not, a trial date would be set.
The state alleges Broad hit Avery over the head April 3 at their apartment after arguing in a back bedroom while their roommate, Andrea Catherine Payne, 27, sat in another room. There also is evidence Broad slit Avery's throat, prosecutors alleged.
Broad told the court during his plea hearing in early January Avery swung a pipe at him. Angered, he “stuck a knife in her throat,” he said.
Payne reportedly heard the two arguing and a thud, according to court documents. Broad informed Payne that he “cracked her (Avery’s) skull open” and told Payne to leave, which she allegedly did without checking on the victim, a criminal complaint said.
It’s unclear why Broad and Avery were arguing. Just moments before Avery’s death, Broad came out of the bedroom and said Avery might claim he raped her before going back to the bedroom, police said in court documents. Prosecutors do not allege that happened.
In previous filings, the state claimed that Broad tried to kill another person and Avery in the past, despite no charges being sought in those cases.
After allegedly killing her, Broad dragged Avery’s body in a tote to his garage, where he used saws to dismember her, court documents alleged. After placing her remains in garbage bags, he dumped Avery into a nearby dumpster, court documents said.
In exchange for pleading guilty to one murder charge, a second count was slated to be dismissed.
Kludt said he informed Broad that if he goes to trial, the plea agreement will be rescinded and he could be sentenced to whatever the court wishes. Broad could face up to 40 years in prison.
Prosecutors indicated before reaching the agreement they would seek a long sentence saying Avery was “treated with particular cruelty.”
Three others, including Payne, were charged with two felony counts of aiding an offender, which carries a maximum punishment of 20 years in prison. Payne and David Marvin Erno, 23, of Moorhead, allegedly returned to the apartment to help get rid of evidence after Broad disposed of Avery’s body, court documents said. Erno later wiped the computer clean of contents that would show it belonged to Avery, prosecutors alleged.
Police claimed Payne initially lied when she said she didn’t know where Avery was. She told officers she thought Avery hitched a ride to Colorado or Texas, court documents alleged.
Broad initially reported Avery missing in the days after her death, court documents said. Brandon Everett Leroy Erbstoesser, 34, of Fargo, allegedly told Broad how to cover up Avery’s death, including reporting her missing, telling her family she ran away and destroying evidence, according to court documents.
Erbstoesser and Erno have not entered pleas to their charges. No trial dates have been set in their cases.
Payne pleaded not guilty to her charges. She is scheduled to go to trial in early April, where her defense is expected to argue she was under duress since Broad was in the room during her police interviews.
She also could face a sentence closer to the maximum 20 years, prosecutors said.