Rancher death trial set to start Tuesday

WILLISTON, N.D. -- The trial for a man charged with murder in the shooting death of a Williston, N.D., rancher is set to begin Tuesday in the Ward County Courthouse in Minot.

WILLISTON, N.D. -- The trial for a man charged with murder in the shooting death of a Williston, N.D., rancher is set to begin Tuesday in the Ward County Courthouse in Minot.

Prosecutors believe Ryan Lee Stensaker, 33, of Williston shot 58-year-old Jack Sjol with a .300 caliber rifle in the head and chest in April of 2013. It's possible that it was a hit ordered by the outlaw motorcycle gang the Sons of Silence, according to pretrial testimony in the case.

A report from the state medical examiner indicated Sjol was shot at his ranch northeast of Williston, but the body was found in a private dump approximately eight miles away three weeks after a massive search ensued.

A court document indicates at least 10 witnesses will be testifying at the trial, including representatives of the North Dakota Medical Examiner's office and the state crime lab. Other state witnesses listed by prosecuting attorney Nathan Madden are Amanda McNamee, Caleb Fry, David Peterson, Charissa Remus, Verlan Kvande, Derek Bernier, Steve Gutknecht and Levi Cabler.

McNamee is the Williams County Sheriff's Office detective most involved in the case and has helped to piece together the case against Stensaker.


A pretrial conference is scheduled for Monday.

Stensaker's trial was originally set for July 8, but was moved because of pretrial publicity, a judge ruled. It was first moved to Dickey County, but on Aug. 11, the Northwest Judicial District Court ordered the trial moved to Minot in Ward County, stating Dickey County would not accommodate the needs of the trial.

Stensaker was one of six people originally charged in connection with the murder.

Issac Steen, who owned the land where the body was dumped, was the first to go to trial and was convicted of hindering law enforcement last year. He received the maximum sentence of five years in prison April 28 in Williams County District Court for not telling authorities that the body of missing rancher Jack Sjol was on his property.

Testimony during Steen's trial in early April revealed that Stensaker came to Steen and asked if he could dump some garbage on his property. Steen later discovered the body and learned that the man had allegedly been killed by Stensaker and his associates, Northwest Judicial District Judge Paul Jacobson said.

Steen, when he was interviewed by law enforcement, is the one who reportedly said Stensaker had confided in him that he and "a couple of his buddies" were hired by the Sons of Silence outlaw motorcycle gang to perform a hit on Sjol.

Charges against two other defendants in the case were dismissed.

However, two other defendants charged with hindering law enforcement have upcoming trials. Issac Steen's sister, Teresa, 35, is scheduled to go on trial for a charge of hindering law enforcement Feb. 23 due to change of plea, and Amber Rae Jensen, 30, who has a criminal history of drug and theft charges, is scheduled for a trial on the same charge Jan. 26.


According to a report published in the Williston Herald earlier this year, Sjol's family knows of "absolutely no ties" between him and the people charged in connection with his death, his brother said. The family believes that Stensaker was the shooter but are confident he didn't act alone, Scott Sjol said.

"We feel there are a number of people who know a lot more than they're saying," Scott Sjol said.

He also said he doesn't put any stock in that theory that a hit was ordered on his brother.

Stensaker was represented by attorney Steven Mottinger and the state by Madden.

On April 25, 2013, Sjol's longtime girlfriend, Kelly Blomberg, reported she believed him to be missing.

On scene at his Williston residence, investigators found two pools of blood, three ammo casings, body tissue, teeth and a pair of eyeglasses.

Upon investigation, the tissue and blood was reported to be Sjol's.

The body of Sjol was recovered in the dump, with bullet wounds to his head, face and left upper arm, on May 14, 2013.


The Williston Herald contributed to this report.

What To Read Next
The number of cows going to slaughter is far above the five-year average. Attendees of the annual Cow Calf Days tour in Minnesota heard the latest on cattle trends.
As Mikkel Pates approaches his retirement from Agweek after 44 years in journalism, he talks to Rose Dunn about learning TV, covering ag's characters and scandals and looking toward the future.
Members Only
“In our industry there aren’t a lot of young people in it. I like the fact that there are a lot of young people in agriculture here,” he said of the Mitchell area.
Minnesota Farmers Union, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Growers Association were pleased with items in Gov. Tim Walz's "One Minnesota Budget" proposal.