Shooting suspect motions to close hearing to media, public

The attorneys for a Surrey man charged with murder and attempted murder in connection to a Christmas Eve 2023 shooting in Minot have filed a motion to bar the public and news media from the preliminary hearing.

Daniel Breijo, 39, a Homeland Security officer from Surrey, is scheduled to appear in North Central District Court for his preliminary hearing before Watford City Judge Daniel El-Dweek on Thursday, April 25. Breijo is charged with Class AA felony murder in the shooting death of Master Sgt. Nicholas Van Pelt, 41, Minot, and the Class A felony attempted murder of a female victim who has not been identified due to a Marsy’s Law declaration. Breijo also is charged with simple assault of a police officer, a Class C felony.

However, Breijo’s attorney Jesse Walstad is asking for continuance for the hearing and also filed a motion to close the hearing “to prevent public dissemination of inadmissible prejudicial information and to protect his right to a fair trial and impartial jury.”

Filed April 9, Walstad’s motion contends that North Dakota Supreme Court precedence favors closing the hearing and requested the record be sealed until either the case is closed or a jury has been impaneled for a trial. In one of the cases cited by Walstad, the North Dakota Supreme Court ruled the rights of the public and news media “cannot overshadow or deprive the defendant of his constitutional rights, including a fair trial.”

El-Dweek had previously granted a limited protection order on discovery in the case, and also has rejected a proposed order for expanded media coverage filed by North Dakota Newspaper Association attorney Jack McDonald. A second proposed order to expand media coverage is pending.

Breijo’s attorneys filed 44 articles from local and national outlets in addition to social media posts and content as exhibits in support of the motion. In an amended motion, Walstad stated Ward County prosecutors possibly could offer hearsay accounts as evidence of Breijo’s actions before, during and after the shooting, including one provided by the female victim.

“Given the exponential expansion of media and social media since Dickinson Newspapers, Inc., and Minot Daily News were decided nearly forty years ago, the prejudicial effect in and outside of Ward County is foreseeably more relevant and substantial today,” wrote Walstad in the brief. “Closing the preliminary hearing is the only prophylactic procedural tool conceived to prevent dissemination of prejudicial evidence before publication. Said another way, once inadmissible information is disseminated the harm will have been done, and mitigation strategies may be necessary to reduce the existing prejudicial effect.”

The Ward County State’s Attorney’s office has not filed a response to the motions as of Friday, and no additional hearings have been scheduled, according to court records.


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