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Father says Fargo homicide victim had 'a kind, loving soul'

Daniel Benjamin Habiger1 / 3
David Patrick Williams2 / 3
Jarryd Heis (left) and his father, Joel Heis, get their photo taken while catching up in Fargo in 2016. Special to The Forum3 / 3

FARGO — Jarryd Heis had his share of demons, but his father says the 32-year-old was trying to improve himself before he was killed at a north Fargo apartment building last week.

Heis, a Fargo resident, often went by "Buzzy," a nickname his grandfather gave him when he was 6 months old because he would scoot around on his elbows and "fly all over the house," said Heis' father, Joel.

Jarryd Heis was a father of three young children, an artist and someone who wanted to be a "good Samaritan," Joel Heis said. Still, he struggled with the demon of addiction after a "troubled youth" that included time in foster care.

Fargo police identified Jarryd Heis as the man whose body was found Friday morning, March 2, in an apartment building at 701 10th St. N.

Police said the 29-year-old suspect, Daniel Benjamin Habiger, of Fargo, called a 911 dispatcher that morning from a nearby gas station to report he had been involved in a "physical altercation" that resulted in a man's death.

Habiger was charged Monday, March 5, with murder in Cass County District Court, and his bail was set at $1 million in cash. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of life without parole.

Habiger, clad in Cass County Jail orange, said little during his interactive television hearing, but rocked nervously throughout most of the hearing from his left foot to his right.

According to court documents, Habiger told detectives that he, Jarryd Heis and another man, David Patrick Williams of Fargo, had been drinking alcohol at Habiger's apartment early Friday. Habiger said Jarryd Heis verbally threatened him and his family and that scared him. Habiger told police he "choked out" Jarryd Heis and that he kicked him in the head after he choked him because Jarryd Heis was still moving, court documents stated.

Habiger told police he killed Jarryd Heis because the man would not stop fighting and that he had choked him too long, court documents stated.

Habiger told police that he and Williams left his apartment after they suspected Jarryd Heis was dead. Habiger told police Williams suggested he go to the home of a man called "Bear" to stay for a couple of days and avoid detection by law enforcement. Habiger said he instead went to the gas station and called police about the incident, court documents stated.

Williams, who police said may have witnessed the homicide, was also charged in Cass County District Court on Monday. He faces a felony charge of hindering law enforcement and a misdemeanor count of failing to report a death. Conditions for his release were set at $7,500 bond, or a $750 cash bail.

Williams' attorney, Stormy Vickers, declined to comment on the case. A message left for Habiger's attorney, Monty Mertz, was not returned Monday.

Joel Heis said he has doubts about what he's heard of Habiger's story so far.

The father said police officers told him that Habiger claimed he acted alone and in self-defense in killing his son. But he said authorities also told him Habiger seemingly lacked injuries that would suggest he was attacked or had to defend himself.

The father said his son grew up in Lonsdale, Minn., and later moved to foster care in the Grand Rapids, Minn., area. He lived in Fargo for the past four or five years, he said, though he often came and went during that time.

Joel Heis said he's not sure where his son was living in Fargo after recently returning to town from Minneapolis. He said he never heard his son talk about Habiger.

Joel Heis said an autopsy on his son was completed Saturday, March 3, in Grand Forks, though officials were still waiting for results of a standard toxicology report.

Jarryd Heis' body was released for burial on Saturday, and Joel Heis said relatives are planning a funeral they hope to hold next weekend in Cass Lake, Minn. That community is on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation, where Jarryd Heis was an enrolled member of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, according to his father.

Joel Heis said his son struggled for much of his life with addiction issues, a struggle Joel Heis can relate to after 21 years in recovery. Still, he said his son seemed to be getting better in recent years as he leaned more on his faith and native beliefs.

"He was a loving neighbor, and he would give anybody a helping hand without ever asking for anything," he said. "Deep down, he had a kind, loving soul."

North Dakota and Minnesota court records show Habiger has a number of criminal convictions. Many are misdemeanors involving alcohol, though he has felony convictions in Cass County, N.D., for simple assault in 2008 and aggravated assault in 2015. Habiger also has a felony conviction for fleeing in 2016 in Otter Tail County, Minn.

Jarryd Heis had a criminal history dating back to 2004, including a felony conviction in 2008 for aggravated assault in Cass County, N.D., according to North Dakota and Minnesota court records. His record also includes several alcohol-related misdemeanors.

"Yeah, he had demons to struggle with," Joel Heis said. "But that's by no means a reason for somebody to kill you."

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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