Andersen gets life in prison
DETROIT LAKES - In Minnesota, a conviction for first-degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison.
So despite claims of innocence and pleas of leniency from the family and friends of Kenneth Andersen, the sentence handed down by District Court Judge Peter Irvine on Thursday was just that: Life, without possibility of parole.
Last Thursday, the 34-year-old rural Waubun man was found guilty of killing his former friend and business partner, Chad Swedberg, 33, of rural Ogema. He had been accused by authorities of shooting Swedberg twice with a high-powered rifle on April 13, 2007, while Swedberg was out gathering maple syrup.
Yet there was no rejoicing by the victim's family: Jesse Fain, the son of Swedberg's widow, Leslie Fain, told Irvine there was "no enjoyment, just relief."
He was one of a handful of people who were allowed to address the judge prior to sentencing.
"None of us want to be here today, saying what we're saying (about Andersen)," Fain added. "We'd rather be spending our time with Chad."
But it's not just the Fains and the Swedbergs who have been affected by last week's verdict, he said, "it's the entire community -- the entire community held its breath, and now they can finally breathe."
Though she directed her remarks toward Judge Irvine, as instructed, Jesse's sister Rachel Fain was obviously addressing Andersen when she asked, "What did he (Swedberg) say to you that made you think you had to silence him?
"What happened? How could you? Why?" she added.
She also talked about the impact that losing Swedberg had on her family over the past year.
"He's missing in our hearts every day," Fain said. "Chad was such a special part of our family, it's difficult to put into words the impact his murder has had on us."
But it was not just their family that lost someone, she continued.
"Your (Andersen's) family will also miss you for some of the very things we will miss Chad," she added.
Swedberg's niece, Donna Rotella, expressed similar sentiments.
"You not only took my uncle's life, you also took your own," she said, adding that she wants Andersen "to dwell on the things you took away from me and my family for the rest of your life... you took a piece of my heart that cannot be replaced."
Andersen, however, has continued to maintain his innocence throughout the proceedings, and on Thursday, he told Judge Irvine, "I love life, I don't take life... I didn't take a life."
His mother, Geraldine Bellanger, told Judge Irvine, "Justice was not served here. My son did not get a fair trial -- I know deep in my heart my son did not kill Chad Swedberg, and I will not stop until the truth comes out."
Mike LaDue, who had been a friend of both the Swedberg and Andersen families since Chad and Ken were very young, said he, too, believed Andersen was innocent.
"I think the justice system has failed badly," he said. "The injustice here today is that an innocent man is going to prison, and a guilty man is getting away with murder.
"But the truth has a way of finding its way to the surface ... this is not over."