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Sheriff: Northeast North Dakota man shot daughter after becoming upset about pets brought into house

Steven Donald Aune is accused of murder for the Wednesday shooting death of his 36-year-old daughter at his Walsh County home. WDAY News briefly interviewed him while he was being escorted through the parking lot between the court and county jail. Matt Henson / WDAY

GRAFTON, N.D. — A 65-year-old Walsh County man could spend the rest of his life in prison after prosecutors say he shot and killed his daughter during an argument at his home in Adams, although the man said in an interview that it was only an accident.

Steven Donald Aune made his first appearance in Walsh County Court in Grafton Thursday, May 2, where he was formally charged with murder for the shooting death of his daughter, 36-year-old Stephanie Aune, who is referred to as Jane Doe in court documents.

"It was an accident," Steven Aune said during a minute-long interview while he was being escorted through the parking lot between the Walsh County courthouse and jail after his initial hearing, saying he didn't mean to shoot his daughter.

When asked how he felt about the incident, he said "terrible."

Walsh County Sheriff Ron Jurgens said the shooting happened during an argument between the father and daughter just before 11 a.m. Wednesday. Stephanie Aune and her sister had been living with their father and he had started to resent them "leeching off him," according to an affidavit filed in Walsh County court.

Jurgens said that resentment escalated after the daughters recently brought some pets into the home.

"There were some rats that were brought into the house as pets, and Mr. Aune said he was on a limited budget and, with the guests in the house, that he was not able to provide for them and their pets . . . that made him upset," Jurgens said.

Aune had been drinking, was described as suicidal and was trying to kick his daughters out of his house, saying their extended stay was stressing him out and that he could not afford to have them live with him anymore, Jurgens said.

Aune grabbed a .22 semiautomatic pistol and pulled the trigger about 15 feet away from his daughter, according to court documents.

He thought the bullet had only grazed his daughter, who then slumped over the kitchen table asking for someone to drive her to the hospital.

At this point, Steven Aune started acting as if he was in disbelief about what had happened, according to court documents.

Stephanie Aune's twin sister, who was in the house at the time of the shooting, drove the victim to First Care Medical Center in Park River at around 11 a.m.

Nurses attempted to perform CPR outside, but she was pronounced dead once she was brought into the hospital.

Aune's sister did not immediately call 911, Jurgens said.

"It’s at least 45 minutes from the time she is shot until she arrives at the hospital," he said, adding that no one has explained the delay to detectives.

"The delay . . . I'm not going to say that it caused the death, but it certainly didn't help with the immediate medical situation going on with her," Jurgens said.

Two 911 calls were reported the morning of the shooting.

Around 11 a.m., police say they received a call from an abuse shelter that Steven Aune was suicidal and there was a family fight at a home in Adams. Minutes later, dispatchers got another another call about a woman who had been driven to the hospital in Park River by another family member.

Aune was arrested without incident shortly after his daughter's death, and he does not currently have a lawyer. His bail has been set at $150,000 cash only.

His next court date is in 3 weeks.