Anderson murder trial begins in DL
Jesse Fain may have been just three years younger than his stepfather, Chad Swedberg, but he clearly liked him, enjoyed his company, and grieves his loss.
The soft-spoken Fain, now 32, with short-cropped black hair and neatly trimmed beard and mustache, was called to stand Tuesday to testify in the first-degree murder trial of Kenneth Andersen of rural Waubun.
Andersen, 34, was indicted by a Becker County grand jury in September for first-degree, premeditated homicide in the April 13 shooting death of Chad Swedberg, which occurred while he was processing maple syrup near his home in rural Ogema.
Fain became overcome with emotion at one point as he talked about Swedberg, who was shot to death April 13, 2007, as he prepared to start his maple syrup cooker for the day.
"I got along with him (Swedberg) better than anyone else I've gotten along with," he said. "We were just friends -- we did everything together -- hunted, fished, wild riced, leeched..."
He clearly wasn't so fond of Swedberg's friend Andersen. But he said he was in a hunting party with Andersen once, and said he remembers Andersen visiting the maple syrup camp at least once in the past year to see how things were going.
Fain also said he talked to Swedberg on the phone the day he bought a Tikka 300 Winchester Short Magnum bolt-action rifle for Andersen at Reed's sporting goods in Walker.
Andersen paid for it, but Swedberg purchased it, apparently because Andersen didn't have a valid driver's license.
Ironically, the rifle with the silver barrel and black synthetic stock was allegedly used by Andersen to shoot Swedberg twice at the maple syrup camp.
The bullets caused severe internal injuries, and he bled to death on his back, watching the sky.
Oddly, there was no blood around the body, leaving his wife, Leslie Fain, and brother Ken to believe initially that he died of a heart attack.
Unsure of what they were dealing with, two White Earth police officers who responded to the scene had to move the body more than is normal for a murder scene, although they only turned him on first one side, then the other, until they found a bullet wound in the back shoulder area. He apparently was shot from behind. The other bullet struck in the buttocks area.
The defense has said the crime scene was tainted, in part because the body was moved, in part because some family and friends of Swedberg were allowed to access the scene.
But the first two White Earth police officers on the scene, Scott Brehm and Nick Stromme, testified that the crime scene was under constant watch from the time they arrived, and that friends and family in the area were for the most part either turned away or monitored by officers.
Fain testified that, about a week before his death, Swedberg had decided to quit a construction business he operated with Andersen.
"He had a friend and contractor in Fargo he had worked with who had a house that had to be effaced (with stucco). It would have brought in about $10,000 for Chad, and he had three or four houses after that lined up to efface," Fain said.
Fain said he never saw a rifle like the Tikka 300 in the Fain-Swedberg household, which included Jesse Fain's wife, their two children and two other relatives.
"Chad had a Browning 30-06 he used for hunting," Fain said. "He preferred a semi-automatic, which means he didn't have to use a bolt." The Tikka 300 is bolt-action.
Other guns in the house included two shotguns, two muzzle-loaders and a .22 caliber rifle.
But most of the guns were being repaired the day of the murder, after sustaining damage in a garage fire earlier, Fain said.
Although there was some talk of Swedberg and Andersen going into the leeching business together, Swedberg had apparently soured on the idea.
Fain testified that Andersen called Swedberg's cell phone at the maple syrup camp the evening before the murder.
"He didn't want to talk about leeching with Andersen," said Fain, who overheard the conversation.
On the other hand, Fain said Swedberg was getting along well with his brother, Ken Swedberg, the evening before his death.
The defense elicited testimony Monday that showed relations between the two brothers, who lived near each other, had been rocky at times -- particularly over a land deal that Leslie Fain said was unfair to Chad.
That day, Ken Swedberg had gotten some maple syrup from someone other than Chad, and "Chad wanted to go over and make fun of the syrup, 'cause his was better," said Jessie Fain, who went over with him.
"They were laughing with each other that night," he said. "They got along like brothers do -- they did things they didn't agree with, but they let each other be."
The men carried cell phones when they went into the woods, because Leslie Fain worried about "accidents, hunters shooting the wrong things, and she wanted to be able to call in case of emergency," Fain said.
Defense attorney Rory Durkin questioned whether that didn't mean there was a lot of hunting activity in the area.
But Fain said no.
"Over the years, I was surprised at how few people we ran into (in the wooded acreage) behind the house," he said.
Victim's wife clashes with defense attorney
Jesse's mother, Leslie, was the first witness called to testify at Andersen's murder trial on Monday.
Attorney Rory Durkin, of Giancola Law Office, Anoka, is handling the defense. He clashed with Fain during her testimony.
After more than three hours of testimony, it became clear that Leslie Fain's testimony was colored by the fact that she believed Andersen had murdered her husband.
"Your opinion (of Kenneth Andersen) at the time of Chad's death was different than it is now," he asked her at one point.
"Yes," she replied.
"Because you think he killed Chad?"
"I know he did," Fain responded heatedly.
"No, you feel he did," Durkin said.
"I know he did it!" she said.
Voices rose, and the two went back and forth a few more times before she admitted she did not see who shot her husband.
But she left no doubt that she believes that Andersen, a lifelong friend and recent business partner of Swedberg, had murdered him.
District Judge Peter Irvine admonished them both.
Fain had testified earlier that Andersen and Swedberg had not been such great friends as the defense was trying to portray.
Chad "tolerated' Andersen," she said. "They were not best buddies. They would hunt together, they grew up together (but) Chad was tired of him and all the trouble he caused. Chad was a good person. He would be buddies with anybody."
But under cross-examination, Fain admitted she had said in previous statements that the two were best friends. And on the day of the shooting, when police asked her who might have a grudge against her husband, Fain told them to talk to Andersen, since the two were close and "talked all the time."
The "best friend" thing is key to Andersen's defense.
In opening statements Monday -- which are a sort of preview of what to expect in the four-to-six week trial --Durkin said the key to the defense is "wouldn't, couldn't can't."
"The evidence will show he wouldn't shoot his best friend,' Durkin said. The two were friends since kindergarten and did everything together -- hunting, trapping, fishing drinking, snowmobiling.
"They laughed together and they cried together -- they supported each other when their fathers died."
Assistant Attorney General Al Zdrazil is handling prosecution of the case, along with County Attorney Mike Fritz.
Andersen and Swedberg may have been friends, Fritz said in his opening statement, but evidence will show that Andersen committed the murder.
Police found the alleged murder weapon -- a Tikka 300 Winchester Short Magnum bolt-action rifle -- hidden under insulation in the rafters in one of Andersen's outbuildings.
On top of that, they found it after Andersen told them they could not search there, because the building was owned by his brother, Frank, and he had denied permission for a search.
When asked by police, the brother denied saying any such thing.
That was allegedly a pattern with Andersen. He would tell the police something and give them the name of a person that could confirm the story. But when police checked, the "confirmations" never came through.
Other statements by Andersen also failed to hold water, Fritz said in his opening statement.
Andersen told police he didn't own the Tikka 300 anymore. But there is no evidence to back up his story that he worked a trade with Swedberg involving two muzzleloaders and $250.
And law enforcement officers saw the gun in his house three weeks after he claims he got rid of it.
They were executing a search warrant in a stolen ATV case out of Roseau County.
The ATV had been stolen from a residence where Swedberg and Andersen had put up a pole barn.
The ATV was found on Swedberg's property, and he believed he had been "set up" and had told family members he wouldn't protect Andersen from a felony theft charge in the case.
"One day after the shooting, the defendant had a hearing in Roseau on the ATV theft," Fritz said.
In his opening statement, Durkin scoffed at the notion of that as a motive, noting that even if Andersen had admitted to the ATV theft, he would not have faced any prison time.
And he said ballistics tests on the bullets found in Swedberg's body were inconclusive, could not be tied to the Tikka 300, and could have come from a variety of 30-caliber rifles.
"The state can't tell you what kind of bullet was used," he told the jury. "It simply can't."
The timeline laid out by the prosecution is also flawed, he said. As is the state's theory that Andersen walked across the frozen Fish Hook Lake, which was beginning to thaw, and through muddy terrain to get to the murder scene, without leaving tracks.
The murder happened shortly after 8 a.m., and the last person to see Swedberg alive was his wife, who talked to him before he left to go to the maple syrup cooking site about a mile and a half from their home.
And yet, Fritz told the jury, on the day of Swedberg's funeral, Andersen told a bank teller that the death "was particularly hard for me, because I was probably the last person to see him alive."
Trial testimony resumed this morning at the Becker County Courthouse in Detroit Lakes.