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Adams takes the stand in own defense

After more than eight months of newspaper headlines, police statements, legal consultations, a grand jury indictment, and an aborted first trial, emotions got the best of Detroit Lakes Schools Superintendent Mark Adams -- he wept when he finally took the stand in his own defense here Thursday.

He is charged with felony first- and third-degree assault, for allegedly punching Mark Rothschadl in the face about 5 p.m. on Sept. 9 at Rothschadl's farm near Ogema, breaking an eye socket and damaging his vision.

Adams had to stop several times to compose himself as he told defense attorney Peter Wold of Minneapolis about how he had been married to his now ex-wife Becky for 17 years, and how the charges had embarrassed his three children.

Adams, 43, played football and hockey in high school and was a quarterback at Moorhead State University.

His three-year contract with the Detroit Lakes School District started July 1, after three years as superintendent in Deer River.

The seeds of his affair with Rothschadl's then-wife, Terri Anderson, were planted two years previously, after they met at an educational conference in Washington. Neither of their spouses attended the conference.

The relationship started as friendship and grew into romance over time, Adams said.

The affair came to light after repeated phone calls Adams made to the Rothschadl home.

Under cross examination, Adams said he was not out of line calling the home and did not consider himself a factor in breaking up the Rothschadl marriage, though he admitted the affair "didn't help."

Both Adams and Terri Anderson obtained divorces last summer, but Mark Rothschadl was adamant that Adams not be involved with his two children.

Rothschadl testified Wednesday that Adams tried to force the issue on Sept. 9, coming out to his farm and belligerently laying down the law about how things were going to be -- he and Terri were going to be together and Adams was eventually going to be a stepparent to the two elementary school-age Rothschadl kids.

When Rothschadl angrily told him he would never be welcome around his children, Adams punched him in the face, knocking him down, then coolly told him "this is what I do," Rothschadl said.

Adams on Thursday disputed that version of events and said he went to the farm -- after being invited there during a phone call with Rothschadl -- to meet him for the first time and try to mend fences, since the affair was now water under the bridge and they needed to get along together in a small community.

Adams said he tried the conflict-resolution approaches he uses in his job, but said Rothschadl came at him too quickly and threw the first punch, striking him in the head.

Adams admitted he threw several punches in self-defense, but said the only punch to Rothschadl's face was with his left fist, and did not cause the blowout fracture to Rothschadl's left eye socket.

That must have happened at some point when they were throwing each other against vehicles and wrestling on the ground, he said.

Adams hurt his left hand blocking a kick in the altercation, he said, but he was otherwise uninjured.

When he arrived at the farm, he said Rothschadl greeted him by saying "what do you want?"

"I said 'we need to put the children first, we need to put this behind us, it's water under the bridge,'" Adams testified.

"He said 'I don't give a (expletive) what you two do.' I was kind of staggered by that," he continued.

"I told him we had five kids involved and needed to work something out ... I must have hit a hot spot. He told me I'd never get near his ... kids. He told me to take care of my own damn kids."

Adams said Rothschadl was pacing and getting visible upset, so he "tried to keep my hands down, cross my feet, use non-confrontational techniques."

"He came (at me) quickly, I didn't have time to move away," Adams testified. "He shoved me against the truck, then I catch one (a punch) right in the head ... Now it's fear -- is this guy going to take me out? I don't know how strong this guy is -- is he going to hurt me? I threw a left just to get him off me, then it was basically a wresting match."

At one point, Adams said, "I tripped, I stumbled -- he got the better of me there -- he slammed me into the door of his Jeep Wagoneer. Then he came straight at me, head in my chest, he spun me around back towards my vehicle -- we went down and we both hit hard."

Both men were exhausted and that ended the fight, Adams said.

The Becker County Attorney's Office had originally decided not to file charges against either man, but new evidence came to light that resulted in the investigation being reassigned within the sheriff's department, and eventually a grand jury being called to determine if charges should be filed.

That new evidence was a statement from Matt Lanoue, a self-employed trucker who lives about a half-mile from the Rothschadl farm. He told investigators that Adams had stopped to ask for directions to the Rothschadl farm in the early afternoon the day of the alleged assault.

That conflicted with Adams' story. He said he stopped for directions in the late afternoon on the way to the farm. If Lanoue was right, that would demonstrate stalking-type behavior that could mean that Adams intended to have it out with Rothschadl that day, as Rothschadl said Adams had told him.

Wold lambasted Lanoue and his friend, Chris Brunner of Moorhead, for being off in their timeline of the days' events by several hours, which he said resulted in the grand jury indicting Adams Nov. 1 -- because it made it look like Adams lied about stopping for directions in the late afternoon, when Lanoue had testified he wasn't home.

The time gap was an honest mistake caused by having to reconstruct the day's timeline from memory several weeks later, not a conspiracy, Lanoue and Brunner testified.

In the end, it could all come down to whether the jury believes a 10-year-old boy was riding a motorbike or a four-wheeler ATV that day.

The boy is Dallas Lanoue, son of Matt Lanoue, and he testified Wednesday that Adams came into his yard for directions in the early afternoon, before the family went to Fergus Falls to pick up their only ATV.

Wold implied the early afternoon stop was a story made up by friends of Rothschadl to get Adams charged and convicted. But he was unsuccessful in getting Matt Lanoue or his son to say the boy had been riding an ATV, not a dirt bike, when Adams stopped by.

If he had been riding an ATV, it would have proved Adams was there in the late afternoon.

Adams himself wasn't much help. He testified Thursday that he couldn't see what the boy was riding, just that it was a motorized vehicle, because a parked semi was blocking his view.

Evans pointed out that Adams had previously said the boy was riding a "motor bike" in testimony before the grand jury and in a police statement.

Wold noted that elsewhere in the police statement Adams had called it a "motorized something."

Other testimony was heard Thursday from Becker County sheriff's investigator John Sieling; Terri Anderson's mother -- Cathy Anderson of St. Cloud; and Gary Benjamin, a Cellular 1 tower maintenance technician.

A deposition from Dr. Lance Bergstrom of Fargo, an eye specialist, was read into the record, with Assistant Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz speaking from the stand on behalf of Bergstrom

The prosecution rested its case Thursday and the defense is expected to wrap up today (Friday).

The case is being heard by District Judge Mark Hansen. It was moved to Fergus Falls from Detroit Lakes because of pretrial publicity.