A North Dakota man who killed himself in a courtroom upon being convicted was facing a minimum of seven years in prison, according to reports.
Jeffrey Sahl Ferris, who slashed his throat inside the federal courthouse in Fargo, had been found guilty of using a firearm in the presence of a minor at the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation, Native News Online reported.
Ferris grabbed an envelope opener after US District Judge Peter Welte denied his request to be released for 24 hours before returning to jail, sources told the outlet Monday.
Ferris, a former emergency medical technician, was not a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians but is a descendant of tribal members, the website reported.
Ferris, 55, allegedly drove a Jeep toward seven children on the reservation in north-central North Dakota in April 2020, nearly hitting them, The Forum reported.
He also allegedly assaulted a person with a 9mm handgun. He had faced charges of assault with a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment, terrorizing and using a firearm in a violent felony, according to court documents cited by the newspaper.
A witness said the man, who lived in Belcourt, started “fidgeting with his neck” while standing up after the guilty verdict was read.
“His attorney asked him, ‘What the hell are you doing?’” the woman, who asked not to be identified, told WDAY News. “And the guy turned around, and you could see the inside of his neck. He had slit his neck with some object. There was blood all over the walls in the courtroom, and the marshals had wrestled him to the floor. You could hear him screaming, ‘I can’t breathe.’”
FBI investigators are trying to determine how Ferris — whose identity was not immediately released by authorities — got the weapon into court, spokesman Kevin Smith said.
“I can’t remember the last time an event like this happened where somebody was able to smuggle some contraband into a federal courtroom and die of a self-inflicted wound,” Smith told the newspaper. “Very, very, very odd. Very unusual. We will take our time to get to the bottom of it.”
Smith told the Associated Press the man was acquitted on one charge and found guilty on another prior to slashing his neck.
“He did the self-harm after he heard the verdict and after the jury had left the courtroom,” Smith said Monday.
A message seeking additional comment from Smith was not immediately returned early Tuesday.
Ferris’ trial was the only proceeding scheduled for last week in Fargo’s federal court, The Forum reported.
North Dakota US Marshal Dallas Carlson told KVRR the man identified in reports as Ferris “produced an edge weapon” and cut his throat as Welte and other court officials looked on.