A plea agreement could be in the works for a rural Cloquet man accused of fatally shooting a friend in November 2019, attorneys indicated Wednesday.
The settlement discussions come as Thomas Allen Micklewright nears a March 30 trial date on a charge of unintentional second-degree murder in the death of James Arthur Couture.
Micklewright, 45, appeared in State District Court in Duluth for the first time in five months, with attorneys requesting that Judge Sally Tarnowski grant additional time to discuss a possible resolution.
"We don't have a settlement today," defense attorney Mikkel Long told the court, "but I would say that discussions are actively ongoing."
Tarnowski scheduled another hearing for March 18, which will be the deadline for any plea agreement to be entered. Tarnowski herself is new to the case, having assumed it after the recent resignation of Judge Shaun Floerke.
The Minnesota Judicial Council last week extended a general prohibition on jury trials before March 15, but broadened criteria for exceptions, including cases with in-custody defendants or those with a speedy-trial demand. Barring any renewed restrictions, Tarnowski said Micklewright's case would be eligible to proceed.
According to a criminal complaint, Micklewright and his wife were hosting Couture and his wife at their home, 3521 Brevator Road, on the Fond du Lac Reservation, just northwest of Cloquet, on the night of the incident.
Both couples had been drinking before Micklewright's wife called 911 around 5 a.m. Nov. 9, 2019, to report the shooting. Micklewright allegedly admitted during the course of that call that he intentionally shot Couture with a .40-caliber pistol, but would not further describe the circumstances, the complaint said.
When law enforcement arrived at the residence, they found Couture in the kitchen, where he was pronounced dead. No weapons were found on his person or in the vicinity, according to the complaint. Both wives were believed to be asleep at the time of the shooting, the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office reported.
Micklewright was detained without incident at the scene. Authorities said a preliminary breath test administered at about 11 a.m. — approximately six hours after the shooting — placed his blood-alcohol concentration at 0.20, which is 2.5 times the legal limit for driving.
Couture, 65, of Brookston, was a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who worked a number of jobs on the reservation, according to his obituary. He was survived by his wife, six children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Micklewright's attorneys have filed notice that he intends to rely on a claim of self-defense, as well as a general "not guilty" defense, should the case go to trial. Micklewright posted a $125,000 bond shortly after his arrest and remains free.
The trial is scheduled to last up to two weeks and would be heard by a jury at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Duluth under strict protocols enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.