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Friend or foe? Attorneys paint two pictures of Andersen as murder trial begins

The wife of murder victim Chad Swedberg clashed with the defense attorney Monday at the Becker County Courthouse.

Leslie Fain was the first to testify in the first-degree murder trial of Kenneth Andersen of rural Waubun.

After more than three hours of testimony, it became clear that Fain's testimony was colored by the fact that she believed Andersen had murdered her husband.

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.

Attorney Rory Durkin, of Giancola Law Office, Anoka, is handling the defense.

"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 shot 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."