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December 01, 2006
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ND man gets 7 years for chief shooting, fire

By Dave Kolpack

CAVALIER, N.D.- A farmer who went on a rampage in 2005  -- getting into a shootout with officers, setting a courthouse and jail on fire and shooting a police chief  -- will spend as many as seven years in prison.

A 20-year history of mental illness factored into the plea agreement for James Thorlakson, 55, of Hensel, said Pembia County prosecutor Stuart Askew.

Thorlakson's spree last August began when officers arrived at his farm in northeastern North Dakota to serve an order for him to stay away from his ex-wife. Thorlakson shot at the officers with a pistol, then drove to the courthouse, eight miles away in Cavalier.

Once there, he splashed gasoline in the jail and courthouse and set them on fire. Thorlakson left for a time but returned and shot Cavalier Police Chief Ken Wolf, injuring him.

At a hearing Friday at the same courthouse, which is still being repaired, a judge sentenced Thorlakson for attempted murder, arson and reckless endangerment. The sentences are concurrent, and he will get credit for time already served. That means he will spend a maximum of seven years in prison, and possibly less than five years.

"I don't know if any of us are happy with seven years, but given the mental illness, it's probably appropriate," said Deputy Brian Erovick, who was grazed by a bullet during the gunfight.

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