Prosecutors: Stolen ATV may have been motive for murder
An ATV stolen from a Roseau County residence in late 2006 was at the crux of testimony Tuesday in the continuing murder trial of rural Waubun resident Kenneth Andersen.
Andersen, 34, was indicted by a Becker County grand jury in September for first-degree, premeditated homicide in the April 13, 2007 death of Chad Swedberg.
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.
Nine months before that indictment, however, another complaint was filed against Andersen in Roseau County -- for theft.
During Tuesday's testimony, the possibility of Swedberg being asked to testify against Andersen in that court trial was brought out as a possible motive for the shooting.
Roseau County Sheriff's Department Investigator Jeff Nelson and Becker County Sheriff's Department Deputy Brad Anderson were both called to the stand and questioned by Becker County Attorney Michael Fritz.
In their testimony, the two law enforcement officers provided details regarding the investigation into the 2006 theft -- in which Swedberg was originally implicated, but never charged.
Deputy Anderson, a patrol sergeant with the Becker County Sheriff's Department, was on duty during the night of Nov. 11-12, when he received a call to investigate the possible sighting of a stolen ATV in the woods near the Chad Swedberg residence.
He arrived at the scene around 4 a.m., and followed a trail out behind the Swedberg residence -- and he found the ATV parked next to a brush pile about 250 yards down the trail.
Upon examining the vehicle, a 2006 Yamaha Grizzly, he found that the vehicle identification number (or VIN) matched that of the vehicle that had earlier been reported stolen by Roseau County residents Erin and Todd Kenworthy. Some homemade aluminum loading ramps -- which could be used for loading and unloading an ATV onto a larger vehicle -- were also reported missing.
Nelson reported that he had first come to know Swedberg and Andersen when he went to investigate the theft at the Kenworthy residence.
At that time, the construction company run by the two men was working on building a pole barn for the Kenworthys.
Upon questioning, Andersen had reported that some tools were missing from the construction site as well.
"I did not ask him (Andersen) about the ATV at that time," Nelson noted.
On Nov. 22, about a week and a half after the ATV was recovered near Swedberg's residence, Nelson went to talk to Swedberg at another construction site, near Warroad. Andersen was not present.
"I questioned Chad at the Warroad Police Department," said Nelson, noting that it was about 4-5 miles away from the construction site.
"He was forthcoming, friendly, cooperative -- he seemed relaxed," said Nelson, discussing Swedberg's demeanor during questioning.
When Nelson informed Swedberg that the stolen vehicle had been recovered near his home, "he seemed surprised," Nelson said.
Later, Nelson testified, Swedberg volunteered to give Andersen a call to see if he knew anything about the theft. Nelson was standing next to Swedberg when he placed the call on his cell phone -- and, with Swedberg's cooperation, was taping his end of the conversation on a digital recorder in his pocket.
That recording was played for the jury on Tuesday, with transcripts provided to each of them so they could follow along with the recording, which was difficult to hear at times. In the recording, a man's voice -- identified as Swedberg's -- was heard discussing the theft, and saying "I'm getting the rap for it now." Swedberg's side of the conversation was laced with expletives.
"I was wondering if you'd (i.e., Andersen) heard anything about it," said Swedberg on the recording. "Someone's setting me up... you didn't hear nothing, huh?
"I guess I'll have to go around and ask some questions... they're saying I took the bike because they found it behind my house. That's where I've been for the last... two hours (being questioned)."
Swedberg then informed Andersen that there was an officer listening in on the conversation, and asked, "Here, you want to talk to 'em? They're right here."
Nelson testified that at that point, Swedberg handed the phone to him. In the taped conversation, Nelson briefly talked to Andersen about the time he'd questioned him at the Kenworthy property, when "we talked about your tools a little bit."
On Dec. 12, 2006, a search warrant was executed at Andersen's residence on Fish Hook Lake in rural Waubun. After searching both Andersen's home and the surrounding outbuildings, the investigators "found nothing," Nelson said.
However, a subsequent search of the property located "up the hill" from Andersen's -- which was identified by Nelson as being the residence of Ken's brother, Frank Andersen -- was a little more fruitful.
A set of aluminum ramps were found sitting alongside Frank Andersen's garage. When they were seized and shown to the Kenworthys, they were identified as being the same ramps that the couple had earlier reported stolen.
Later that morning 26-year-old Joshua Bogatz -- stepson of Frank Andersen, whom he referred to during testimony as "Dad" -- was called to the stand by Assistant Attorney General Al Zdrazil, who is serving alongside Fritz as co-prosecutor for the case.
Bogatz, who testified that he had lived with Frank Andersen "from when I was little until I was 18," said he had known both Ken Andersen and Chad Swedberg for most of his life.
In fact, Bogatz testified, he had briefly been an employee of their joint construction company, working on "six or seven" jobs with them.
Bogatz was working with the two men at a Pennington County construction site when some investigators showed up there in the fall of 2006.
When Andersen saw the investigators, Bogatz testified, he said something that led both Swedberg and himself to believe that he might have been responsible for the theft.
"Did he say he had stolen it (the ATV)?" Zdrazil asked.
"That's the way we took it," Bogatz responded.
When asked to recall earlier statements made to investigators, Bogatz indicated that he had said he "wasn't going to lie" for Andersen.
He said Swedberg had expressed similar sentiments, but in cross-examination by defense attorney Rory Durkin, Bogatz said that to his knowledge, neither he nor Swedberg were approached to serve as witnesses at Andersen's omnibus hearing on the theft charge -- which was set for April 16, 2007.