Jesse Fain may have been just three years younger than his stepfather, Chad Swedberg, but he clearly liked him, enjoyed his company, and grieves his loss.
The soft-spoken Fain, 32, with short-cropped black hair and neatly trimmed beard and mustache, was called to stand Tuesday to testify in the first-degree murder trial of Kenneth Andersen of rural Waubun.
Andersen, 34, was indicted by a Becker County grand jury in September for first-degree, premeditated homicide in the April 13, 2007, shooting death of Chad Swedberg, which occurred while he was processing maple syrup near his home in rural Ogema.
Fain became overcome with emotion at one point as he talked about Swedberg, who was shot to death as he prepared to start his maple syrup cooker for the day.
"I got along with him (Swedberg) better than anyone else I've gotten along with," he said. "We were just friends -- we did everything together -- hunted, fished, wild riced, leeched..."
He clearly wasn't so fond of Swedberg's friend Andersen. But he said he was in a hunting party with Andersen once, and said he remembers Andersen visiting the maple syrup camp at least once in the past year to see how things were going.
Fain also said he talked to Swedberg on the phone the day he bought a Tikka 300 Winchester Short Magnum bolt-action rifle for Andersen at Reed's sporting goods in Walker.
Andersen paid for it, but Swedberg purchased it, apparently because Andersen didn't have a valid driver's license.
Ironically, the rifle with the silver barrel and black synthetic stock was allegedly used by Andersen to shoot Swedberg twice at the maple syrup camp.
The bullets caused severe internal injuries, and he bled to death on his back, watching the sky.
Oddly, there was no blood around the body, leaving his wife, Leslie Fain, and brother Ken to believe initially that he died of a heart attack.
Unsure of what they were dealing with, two White Earth police officers who responded to the scene had to move the body more than is normal for a murder scene, although they only turned him on first one side, then the other, until they found a bullet wound in the back shoulder area. He apparently was shot from behind. The other bullet struck in the buttocks area.
The defense has said the crime scene was tainted, in part because the body was moved, in part because some family and friends of Swedberg were allowed to access the scene.
But the first two White Earth police officers on the scene, Scott Brehm and Nick Stromme, testified that the crime scene was under constant watch from the time they arrived, and that friends and family in the area were for the most part either turned away or monitored by officers.
Fain testified that, about a week before his death, Swedberg had decided to quit a construction business he operated with Andersen.
"He had a friend and contractor in Fargo he had worked with who had a house that had to be effaced (with stucco). It would have brought in about $10,000 for Chad, and he had three or four houses after that lined up to efface," Fain said.
Fain said he never saw a rifle like the Tikka 300 in the Fain-Swedberg household, which included Jesse Fain's wife, their two children and two other relatives.
"Chad had a Browning 30-06 he used for hunting," Fain said. "He preferred a semi-automatic, which means he didn't have to use a bolt." The Tikka 300 is bolt-action.
Other guns in the house included two shotguns, two muzzle-loaders and a .22 caliber rifle.
But most of the guns were being repaired the day of the murder, after sustaining damage in a garage fire earlier, Fain said.
Although there was some talk of Swedberg and Andersen going into the leeching business together, Swedberg had apparently soured on the idea.
Fain testified that Andersen called Swedberg's cell phone at the maple syrup camp the evening before the murder.
"He didn't want to talk about leeching with Andersen," said Fain, who overheard the conversation.
On the other hand, Fain said Swedberg was getting along well with his brother, Ken Swedberg, the evening before his death.
The defense elicited testimony Monday that showed relations between the two brothers, who lived near each other, had been rocky at times -- particularly over a land deal that Leslie Fain said was unfair to Chad.
That day, Ken Swedberg had gotten some maple syrup from someone other than Chad, and "Chad wanted to go over and make fun of the syrup, 'cause his was better," said Jessie Fain, who went over with him.
"They were laughing with each other that night," he said. "They got along like brothers do -- they did things they didn't agree with, but they let each other be."
The men always carried cell phones when they went into the woods, because Leslie Fain worried about "accidents, hunters shooting the wrong things, and she wanted to be able to call in case of emergency," Fain said.
Defense attorney Rory Durkin questioned whether that didn't mean there was a lot of hunting activity in the area.
But Fain said no.
"Over the years, I was surprised at how few people we ran into (in the wooded acreage) behind the house," he said.