Detective talks about finding suspected murder weapon during search
A Clay County detective testified Friday about finding the alleged murder weapon hidden in the rafters in an outbuilding near defendant Kenneth Andersen's house on Fish Hook Lake.
Andersen is accused of shooting his lifelong friend Chad Swedberg twice -- in the shoulder and hip areas -- with a high-powered rifle fired from a distance.
His first-degree murder trial started Monday in Detroit Lakes.
The upper torso shot damaged internal organs and the combined gunshots caused Swedberg to drop to the ground, where he bled to death, according to the doctor who performed the autopsy, who also testified Friday.
Swedberg was found on the morning of April 13, 2007, near his maple syrup cooker by his wife, Leslie Fain. She had heard two shots earlier and went to check on him after he didn't answer repeated cell phone calls.
A Tikka 300 Winchester Short Magnum bolt-action rifle, believed to be the murder weapon, was allegedly found covered by insulation in the ceiling of one of Andersen's outbuildings. The property was searched June 7.
Detective Charles Anderson, a 28-year veteran of the Clay County Sheriff's Department in Moorhead, testified Friday that the Tikka was found by White Earth Tribal Police Officer John McArthur.
"I was in the immediate area, and as soon as it was found I scaled the ladder to examine it," he said.
Much of the older, wood-framed, metal-sided building was open to the rafters, but the roof had been extended at some point to cover an addition, and in that area plywood sheets were laid down and covered with rolled-out insulation to form a sort of corner attic.
The rifle was found on plywood covered with insulation, Detective Anderson said. The rifle was not loaded, he added. Otherwise, he would have taken photos of the ammunition, as he did of the rifle, buildings, and grounds.
Under questioning from defense attorney Rory Durkin, of Giancola Law Office in Anoka, Detective Anderson admitted that Officer McArthur had accidentally touched the rifle with his bare hands, and may have left fingerprints on it.
The detective said he didn't know why officers started searching where they did in the rafters, or why they seemed to find the hidden rifle so early in the search process.
A photo, taken after the rifle was removed, shows a clump of insulation that clearly looks out of place. Had it looked that way when the search begin, it would have been a natural place to start.
"I don't know what kind of condition it was originally in," the detective said. Anderson testified early because he is going to be out of town and unavailable for a week or so.
Anderson confirmed that an abandoned bulk milk tank was in the barn.
The defendant had said he wanted to cut that tank in half and make two leeching tanks out of it.
He asked a friend and experienced leecher, Al Baker, to come over to his place on the morning of the shooting to look at the tank and advise him on how to proceed.
The prosecution believes the request was designed to keep Baker away from Swedberg long enough for Andersen to commit the murder.
Baker, who testified Thursday and Friday, said he went out to Andersen's place that morning instead of going straight to the maple syrup site to help Swedberg, as planned.
"I looked through the buildings and knocked on the door (at Andersen's place). Nobody was there, or if they were, they didn't answer the door," he said.
Durkin, the defense attorney, then showed Baker a statement he had given to Officer John McArthur on April 20, 2007, a week after the shooting, in which Baker told him he had gone to the Andersen place, but hadn't knocked on the door.
"I know I went to the house, I would have knocked on the door," Baker said Friday. After an exchange with Durkin, he admitted "I truthfully don't remember knocking on the door -- I heard the dogs barking..."
"Were you testifying untruthfully a few minutes ago?" Durkin asked him sternly.
The prosecution team of Assistant Attorney General Al Zdrazil and Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz objected on the grounds of the question being argumentative.
"Sustained," said District Judge Peter Irvine, who seems to be ruling fairly equally both ways during the trial.
Baker also acknowledged that he said in the police statement a week after the murder that Andersen had called him a second time that morning about 8:30 a.m.
"He told you to come to his home," Durkin said. "He had a tank he wanted you to look at, he was putting pipes in it for leeches."
Baker estimated in previous grand jury testimony that he got to Andersen's house about 9 a.m., and he told the Grand Jury it was between 9:30 and 10 a.m.
But cell phone records show Baker was actually there about 10 a.m., Durkin pointed out Friday
Baker said he hasn't worn a watch since he retired over 20 years ago, and was estimating the times.
"I have a short-term memory loss, that's for sure," he said at one point.
Durkin said he didn't hear the statement and had it read back, apparently for the jury's benefit.
Towards the end of his testimony, Baker asked the judge if he could make a statement to explain his comment about his memory.
Judge Irvine said trial rules don't allow for witness statements.
"You (only) get to answer questions," he explained gently.
Later in the day, the jury heard testimony from Dr. Victor Frohloff, who was born in Siberia and moved to the United States in 1993. He now serves as an assistant medical examiner in Ramsey County. He conducted the autopsy on Chad Swedberg a day after the murder.
While running through autopsy photos in court on Friday, Dr. Froloff explained how two bullets from a high-powered rifle fired from a distance entered Swedberg's body from behind -- one in the shoulder and one just above the buttocks -- causing him to drop and bleed to death.
There were no defensive wounds on Swedberg's hands and no injuries to indicate he had been in a fight prior to the shooting.
Froloff said it's "really hard to say" how long it took Swedberg to die. "Possibly minutes."
He could not pinpoint a time of death any closer than 6-12 hours -- they can only do that on TV dramas, he said.
And he could not say how far away the bullets came from -- once the shooter gets more than 4 or 5 feet away from the victim, there's no gunpowder pattern and no way to estimate the distance, he said.
It is "extremely hard to say," which bullet struck first, Froloff testified.
The one that struck higher up severed Swedberg's spinal cord and two vertebra. He would have been paralyzed from the waist down if he had survived, Frohloff said.
The bullet that struck lower shattered a hip joint, and would have left him unable to stand or walk for any length of time, Froloff said.
The defendant looked down at the table as a number of graphic photos from the Swedberg autopsy were shown on a screen, but he did look up at photos of bullet fragments, clothing and X-rays.