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Brother says murder victim's relative was 'reckless with his rifle'

Like most brothers, Ken and Chad Swedberg occasionally argued, and even got into fistfights while growing up together at the family's resort property on Little White Earth Lake.

But as Ken Swedberg testified Wednesday in Becker County District Court, the last bout they had occurred roughly 10-11 years ago.

"Little brother got too big," said Swedberg, who was born six years before his youngest brother, Chad. Since that time, the brothers had not exchanged blows, he said.

The 41-year-old rural Ogema resident was called to the stand Wednesday afternoon, as a witness 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, 2007 shooting death of Ken's brother, Chad Swedberg, at the site near his home where he was cooking maple syrup.

Earlier in the trial, which started Monday in Detroit Lakes, the defense had elicited testimony 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.

But as Leslie testified Monday, the brothers had been getting along well the evening before Chad's death.

That evening, Ken Swedberg testified, Chad and his stepson, Jesse Fain, had been at his home, testing the content of some maple syrup with a hydrometer.

On Tuesday, Jesse Fain had testified that Ken obtained some maple syrup from someone other than Chad, and "Chad wanted to go over and make fun of the syrup, 'cause his was better."

"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."

Ken also testified that they had parted on good terms that evening. The next morning, he got out of bed around 7:15 a.m., went to the bathroom and got dressed, then headed outside to start stirring his syrup tank.

He watched his daughter Megan (then 9 years old) and Thomas Covington, the 17-year-old nephew of Chad's wife Leslie Fain, getting on the school bus around 7:30 a.m.

After stirring the syrup for about 15 minutes, he turned the heating element back on and put it in the tank (the drill he used to stir the syrup and the heating element could not be on at the same time). He then went inside the house to start rolling pollen patties (used to feed his honeybees), listening to the radio while he worked -- "and swearing," because rolling the pollen patties was hard work.

His wife Lisa left the house around 8:45 a.m. to take their youngest daughter, Nicole, to preschool. He then went out into his shop and started getting ready to feed the bees.

It was then that he got a frantic call from Leslie Fain.

"I knew something was terribly wrong," he said. "She was very frantic... she said 'Something's happened to Chad.'"

Swedberg went out to the maple syrup cooker site and saw Leslie sitting a few feet away from where Chad was lying on the ground, flat on his back.

"I checked for the pulse in his neck -- he was cold," Ken Swedberg said, adding that at that point, he figured Chad was probably dead.

"I told Leslie to call 911," he said. She proceeded to do so, but Ken ended up taking the phone from her to tell the 911 operator what had happened.

After the ambulance arrived, Ken gave them directions to the site, then went back to his place to get his Bobcat loader and a wooden pallet, because he figured the muddy conditions at the site might make it difficult to remove Chad's body.

When he got back to the site, "the EMS lady said he'd (Chad) been shot," Ken said. "I was shocked."

When he found Chad lying near the maple syrup cooker, Ken said, "I wondered, was it drugs? A heart attack?" Up until that point, it hadn't occurred to him that his brother had been shot.

As Leslie Fain had testified earlier, there was no visible blood around the body.

During cross examination by Andersen's attorney, Rory Durkin, Swedberg was asked to go back to an earlier part of his testimony, when he mentioned seeing Thomas Covington get on the school bus with his daughter Megan.

Swedberg admitted he was surprised to see Thomas, because he was usually rushing to board the bus at the last minute. Upon questioning from Durkin, he also said he was surprised to see that Covington was clad only in a tank top, as the temperature outside was around 32-33 degrees that morning.

Then, Durkin asked Swedberg to think back to a hunting trip that had taken place about a year before the shooting. In addition to Chad and Ken Swedberg, Covington was also present.

In an earlier statement given to investigators, Ken Swedberg had stated that Covington was "reckless with his rifle," pointing it at others in the group as though he was getting ready to shoot.

Durkin asked Swedberg to read his earlier statement, then verify the accuracy of the portion of the statement that discussed the events of that hunting trip.

Durkin said Swedberg's statement indicated that after Covington was asked "not to point the gun that way," he then turned around and "pointed the gun at Chad in a hostile manner."

When asked if the statement was accurate, Swedberg responded, "Yes."

Assistant Attorney General Al Zdrazil, who is handling prosecution of the case along with Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz, then asked Swedberg whether his statement to law enforcement had been given after Chad's death.

"Yes," Swedberg said, asking why he would have talked to officers before the shooting.

If the prosecution timeline is correct, Covington appears to have a solid alibi.

On Thursday, prosecutors showed a video of Covington checking into the high school office in Waubun the morning of the shooting and heading off to class.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

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