After less than 24 hours, Becker County jury finds Andersen guilty
Despite a case that was based mainly on circumstantial evidence, it took a 12-person jury less than 24 hours to deliver a guilty verdict in the murder trial of rural Waubun resident Kenneth Eugene Andersen.
Andersen, 34, was accused of shooting his lifelong friend Chad Swedberg twice in the shoulder and hip areas, with a high-powered rifle fired from a distance. An autopsy later revealed Swedberg apparently bled to death from his injuries, sustained early on the morning of April 13, 2007.
As the verdict was read late Wednesday afternoon by Judge Peter Irvine, audible sobs and gasps of horror could be heard coming from a group of Andersen's family members, seated behind him in the courtroom.
"My son is no murderer," declared Andersen's mother, Geraldine Bellanger, speaking to television news crews outside the Becker County Courthouse just a few minutes after hearing the jury's verdict. "He was framed and he was framed good.
"I know my children, I know when they're lying to me, and there's no doubt in my mind -- my son is not guilty."
"Mr. Andersen maintains his innocence," said defense attorney Rory Durkin as he left the courthouse, accompanied by law enforcement officers. (Andersen has been remanded to sheriff's custody pending sentencing, which is set for June 12.)
"We do plan to appeal," he added.
"I knew he (Andersen) wouldn't get a fair trial in Becker County," Bellanger continued. "Let the truth be known... we have crooked cops on this force (i.e., the Becker County Sheriff's Department and White Earth Tribal Police Department)."
"He's innocent, absolutely innocent," said Andersen's cousin, Kati Krieg, who was visibly overcome with emotion outside the courthouse, at one point crying on the shoulder of Frank Andersen, Ken's brother.
"Justice was not served. I'm surprised at this jury," Bellanger said, adding that the family would definitely seek an appeal as soon as possible.
On the other side of the courtroom, however, the mood following the reading of the verdict could only be described as one of relief.
"Thank God, justice was served," declared Ken Swedberg, Chad's older brother.
Echoing his brother's sentiments, Chad's wife, Leslie Fain, said she "thanked God" as soon as the verdict was read, because "he gave me justice today -- and he gave Chad justice today."
Fain was accompanied down the steps of the courthouse by her sister, Morning Star Bellcourt, who carried an eagle feather which she said symbolized "justice and truth."
"I kept praying to the creator and touching this eagle feather (while in court). Hoping that the jury would hear the truth."
Bellcourt said that Wednesday's verdict "renewed my faith in justice."
"It's over and done now, and we're ready to go on with our lives," Fain said, adding that she was "at peace" with the outcome.
Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz said he and co-prosecutor Al Zdrazil were "obviously very pleased with the jury's verdict."
Fritz then thanked the three principal law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation -- the Becker County Sheriff's Department, White Earth Tribal Police Department and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension -- for their work.
"They all worked very hard and chased down a lot of leads," he said.
Indeed, there were more than 50 witnesses called and 266 pieces of evidence presented during testimony, which began on May 19.
"It was a lot for the jury to consider," he added -- which was why he wasn't worried when the jury remained sequestered overnight. "We knew that if they were to give (the evidence) an honest review that it would be a while."
Fritz also noted that he was "not worried about the appeal," though he expects there will be one.