A Brevator Township man formally pleaded not guilty Monday to fatally shooting his friend during a night of drinking in late December.
Joseph James Fohrenkam, 18, is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of 16-year-old Joseph James Peterson on the Fond du Lac Reservation. He allegedly shot the victim while "showing off" a pistol and then went on the run for more than a week before he was apprehended.
Fohrenkam appeared from the St. Louis County Jail for a short hearing in State District Court in Duluth. Defense attorney Keith Shaw entered the plea on his behalf, indicating he would not bring any challenges to probable cause or constitutional issues involved in the collection of evidence.
Shaw also asked Judge Eric Hylden to reduce his client's bail from $400,000 to $200,000, arguing the initial setting was too high in relation to the charge. If convicted of culpable negligence, Fohrenkam would face a presumptive prison term of about four years.
"I thought that was a very high amount for an unintended act," Shaw told the court.
St. Louis County prosecutor Nate Stumme opposed the request, expressing concern over allegations that Fohrenkam left the crime scene, took steps to disguise his appearance and was found hiding in Northwestern Minnesota. Shaw had chalked that up to "panic" in the immediate aftermath.
Hylden sided with the prosecutor.
"One of the main concerns that the court has to take a look at is whether a person would be there for all their subsequent hearings," the judge said. "Past behavior being the best gauge of that, I'm going to say that $400,000 is not unreasonable under the circumstances."
According to court documents, Fohrenkam and Peterson were among five young people drinking alcohol in a car outside the defendant's house, 3609 Giiniw Road, in the early morning of Dec. 28.
The three other occupants later told police that Fohrenkam was waving a firearm around, "pointing the gun at everyone in the truck (and) messing around" when he suddenly shot Peterson.
A criminal complaint indicates that the witnesses were intoxicated and did not all clearly observe what led up to the gunshot, but one said Fohrenkam may have accidentally bumped the center console while putting the gun away, causing it to fire.
Fohrenkam allegedly could be heard arguing with his mother, Little Fawn Fohrenkam, during a 911 call placed by one of the witnesses. The other witnesses were allegedly directed to leave the residence before police arrived.
The Fohrenkams were arrested Jan. 6 in an apartment near White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen County, Minnesota. Authorities said Little Fawn initially provided a false name and that Joseph was found concealed within a couch. The mother and son allegedly had shaved their heads and ditched their car in order to hide their whereabouts.
Hylden scheduled a March 4 settlement conference for Joseph Fohrenkam.
Little Fawn Fohrenkam, 38, is set to make her next appearance Friday on a felony charge of aiding an offender to avoid arrest. She is on conditional pretrial release.