The small North Dakota town of Cooperstown has been forever changed by its first murder in 80 years – a brutal decapitation-killing carried out by a racist, a state’s attorney says.
“There are doors locked now that weren’t locked before, said Marina Spahr, the assistant state’s attorney for Griggs County, the Jamestown Sun reported Thursday.
The 984 residents of Cooperstown “look at strangers twice now, before they invite them into their lives in some way,” the prosecutor said at the sentencing of Daniel Evan Wacht, a 31-year-old from California with a lengthy criminal record.
State District Judge Jim Hovey sentenced Wacht to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Jamestown newspaper reported. Wacht was convicted by a jury on April 24 of felony murder in the death of North Dakota State University researcher Kurt Johnson, 54, of Cooperstown.
Only the victim’s head – found buried in the mud in the basement crawl space of Wacht’s rental house across the street from the county courthouse – was found. Authorities believe the remainder of the victim’s body may have been transported to Minnesota.
In sentencing Wacht and ruling out the possibility of eventual parole, the judge cited the murderer’s extensive prior criminal record in California and his refusal to cooperate with law enforcement and disclose the whereabouts of Johnson’s remains.
The victim’s brother, Kory Johnson, read a statement, urging the judge to never allow Wacht out of prison, the Jamestown newspaper reported.
“Our family will never be afforded the luxury of parole from these nightmares and Dan Wacht should never be afforded the luxury of parole,” Kory Johnson said. “Daniel Wacht can never walk out of prison a free man; the only way he can come out is in a pine box. Or after what he did to my brother, a trash bag may be more appropriate.”
Johnson, a North Dakota State University researcher, was last seen about 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve 2010 leaving the Oasis bar in Cooperstown in Wacht’s van.
Five days later, after Johnson had been reported missing, authorities sought to question Wacht, who was arrested as he stepped out of a mid-1990s minivan carrying a loaded 9mm Glock handgun, Griggs County Sheriff Robert Hook previously told Hatewatch.
Shortly before the killing, Wacht “had made the statement that he was going to start an Aryan Nations movement by either blowing something up or killing someone,” the sheriff said.