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Prosecution says Andersen caught in web of lies, defense says state didn't prove its case

Closing arguments were heard Tuesday in the murder trial of 34-year-old Kenneth Andersen of rural Waubun.

The jury began its deliberations shortly after 5:30 p.m., but no verdict was reached Tuesday and the jury will resume deliberations Wednesday morning.

On Monday, both the prosecution and defense had rested their cases. Before the attorneys began to make their final remarks on Tuesday, however, a series of rebuttal witnesses were called.

Al Zdrazil, the Assistant Minnesota Attorney General, and Mike Fritz, the Becker County Attorney, each questioned half of the witnesses.

They included: Shirlene Williams, dispatch supervisor for the Becker County Sheriff's Department; Joan Stenger, communications officer, Becker County; Janice Thorsen, dispatch coordinator, Mahnomen County Sheriff's Department; Melissa Schultz-Geray, jailer-dispatcher, Mahnomen County; Cheryl Warren, dispatcher, White Earth Tribal Police Department; and Sandra Johnson, dispatcher, Mahnomen County (who worked as a dispatcher at the White Earth police department for two years prior to starting with Mahnomen County in November).

All of the witnesses testified that they were on duty during the early morning hours of April 13, 2007 -- the day that rural Ogema resident Chad Swedberg was shot twice while cooking maple syrup out in the woods near his home, and bled to death from his wounds before his body was discovered by wife Leslie Fain.

The witnesses were all in agreement that there had not been a domestic call at the Fain-Swedberg residence, or anywhere in the vicinity, prior to Fain's hysterical 911 call to the Becker County Sheriff's Department just before 10 a.m.

In fact, the dispatchers each testified that there had been no domestic calls of any sort recorded that morning, except for one in the city of Detroit Lakes.

Their testimony contradicted that of Devon Green, who testified Monday on behalf of the defense. Green stated that she had heard what she believed to be a domestic call on Little White Earth Lake Road (where the Swedberg residence is located), during the early morning hours of April 13.

When she was later questioned about hearing that call by investigators John Sieling of Becker County and Dan Baumann of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Green testified that she felt the officers were attempting to get her to change her story.

But none of the witnesses called Tuesday by the prosecution said that there was any such call on April 13. The final rebuttal witness, Greg Ressler, was sworn in, but never testified. Following an objection from Durkin, Ressler's testimony was "resolved by stipulation," according to Zdrazil.

The stipulation, which basically establishes facts that are agreed upon by both prosecution and defense, was as follows: Ressler had been introduced as Chad Swedberg's "best friend" at a summer 2006 party, during which Andersen had walked up to him and said he was Swedberg's best friend, not Ressler.

In addition, Ressler had noticed during WE Fest in 2006 that Swedberg and Andersen were "hardly talking" to each other.

Jesse Fain was also recalled briefly to the stand. Fain reported that, during a gathering of friends and family at the Fain-Swedberg residence two days after Swedberg's death, Andersen was telling jokes and "eyeballing" one of the female guests, making comments about her looks.

"I was crying for two days (after Swedberg's death), and he was cracking jokes?" Fain said, clearly emotional.

In his cross examination, Durkin referenced earlier testimony from Joshua Bogatz and Douglas Haverkamp that Andersen had been crying and appeared quite upset after receiving news of Swedberg's death.

"He put on a good show," Fain responded.

Once the rebuttal testimony was finished, District Court Judge Peter Irvine instructed the jury prior to Zdrazil's closing remarks, which took roughly two hours to complete.

Zdrazil began his remarks by replaying the recording of the 911 call made by Leslie Fain on the morning of April 13, in which she sounded hysterical and incoherent as she attempted to tell the dispatcher the whereabouts of her husband. Ken Swedberg, Chad's brother, was with her at the site when she made the call, and eventually took the phone from her so he could provide a more coherent account of their location. He also noted that Swedberg appeared to be dead already, so there would be no need for an ambulance.

"That is how the world found out that Chad Swedberg was dead... that he would never engage in the passions of his life again," Zdrazil said. "He would never go hunting again, never go fishing again, never again play like the boy who was still inside him.

"He was dead because the defendant went into the woods with his riffle and shot him, not once, but twice, then went back and set about establishing what he thought would be his alibi," Zdrazil said.

Over the course of the next two hours, Zdrazil systematically laid out the holes in that alibi, from the fact that Andersen did not leave his home for an appointment in Mahnomen that morning at the time he told investigators he had done so, between 8:30-9 a.m.; to telling investigators he had traded away the Tikka 30-calibur rifle purchased for him in 2006 by Swedberg, when it was later found hidden in some insulation in the rafters of Andersen's leeching barn.

"One of the problems with telling lies is it becomes hard to keep them straight," Zdrazil said.

During testimony earlier this week from two different firearms experts, Durkin had attempted to prove that there were "hundreds of millions" of guns that would have fit the characteristics of the bullets pulled from Swedberg's body.

However, Zdrazil pointed out, "This gun (the Tikka 300) happens to belong to someone who knows Chad Swedberg... someone who knew where Chad Swedberg was.

"This gun happens to belong to somebody who lied about owning it... to someone who had a motive to kill Chad Swedberg, as bad as it might be," said Zdrazil, referring to earlier testimony that Andersen had been charged with the theft of an ATV in Roseau County at the end of 2006, and Swedberg had indicated he "wasn't going to lie for him."

The fact that Swedberg would most likely never have been called to testify against Andersen at trial wasn't the point, Zdrazil noted.

"It's a matter of betrayal by his best friend that's the issue," he explained, adding that testimony had also shown Swedberg was distancing himself from Andersen, on both a business and personal level, at the time the shooting took place.

"No one has said they weren't best friends as children," Zdrazil said, adding that they may have even been best friends four years ago, or two years ago. "But were they best friends on April 13? That's the issue."

In his closing remarks, Durkin referred back to his opening statement, in which he said there were three words applicable to the case: "wouldn't, couldn't, can't" -- as in, Andersen wouldn't and couldn't have shot his best friend, and the state can't prove he did.

The first two terms, "wouldn't" and "couldn't," still apply, he said. But the third term, "can't," should be replaced by "didn't," Durkin added.

"The evidence will show the state did not prove Ken Andersen shot Chad Swedberg," Durkin said.

As Zdrazil noted in his rebuttal, it's almost as though he and Mr. Durkin were talking about "two different cases."

Now, it's the jury's turn to decide which version is true.

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.

(218) 844-1454