For Ryan Boland, it came down to loyalty and, perhaps, fear: Would he choose the mother of his child or the younger brother he claims he watched bludgeon her to death?
On an evening in late September 2008, as he argued face-to-face with Natasha Waalen in their garage, Boland alleges that he witnessed his brother, Tim, rise from a chair and repeatedly hit Waalen's skull with a baseball bat. In an overflow, emotionally charged Anoka County court room Monday, Boland told a prosecutor that he did not do or say anything to stop it.
But Boland, 34, did more than just walk out of the garage as his longtime live-in girlfriend lay injured on the floor. He said that he and his brother tried to cover up Waalen's death and make it look as if she died in a motorcycle accident, as he pleaded guilty Monday to being an accomplice after the fact.
"I was confused, scared," Boland replied when prosecutor Paul Young asked him why he did nothing to stop the assault, why he never called 911, why he didn't take Waalen, 28, to Mercy Hospital, a mile away.
"I didn't think there was anything I could do," he said.
When defense attorney Joe Friedberg asked him to recreate the scene on Sept. 18, 2008, Boland said that he had had a few beers at dinner before his brother, Tim, now 33, arrived at the Anoka home Ryan shared with Waalen and their 4-year-old daughter, Savannah. While Savannah slept, Ryan Boland watched his brother and Waalen use cocaine and subsequently get into an argument, he testified.
Waalen accused Tim Boland of setting up her brother, Travis Waalen, and father, Jeff Waalen, in a drug sting at their Andover home, Ryan Boland said. Both have since been charged with possession of a controlled substance, prosecutor Young verified after court. Tim Boland had been arrested in Anoka and Hennepin counties for alleged narcotics-related crimes and was working as an informant for the county drug task force, Ryan Boland testified and Young confirmed.
"She felt betrayed," Ryan Boland said of Waalen.
Then, in the garage with both Bolands, Waalen tried to call Travis to tell him Tim Boland had snitched on him, but Ryan Boland grabbed her wrist, according to his testimony. She apparently scratched his wrist, hands and neck as they argued and Tim Boland sat in a chair wrapping black duct tape around a baseball bat.
"Yeah, I'm the one who set up your brother," Tim Boland told her, Ryan Boland testified.
Then Waalen threatened to call Tim Boland's wife, to tell her that he had been having an affair. Tim Boland snapped and clubbed Waalen several times, his brother said. When Waalen fell to the floor, Tim Boland kicked her in the face, Ryan Boland testified.
Sobs and outburst
In the courtroom, which included Boland's parents, Waalen's siblings and so many of her friends that they filled the jury box and were standing against the walls, gasps turned into sobs and one vulgar outburst.
"Where the [expletive] were you?" Travis Waalen yelled as he stood up before Judge Jenny Walker Jasper had him removed from the courtroom.
Ryan Boland said he walked out of the garage and checked on Savannah, whom he would soon leave at home alone for an estimated 25 minutes.
The brothers placed Waalen's body and a motorcycle in the back of Ryan Boland's Chevy pickup, Ryan Boland said. With Tim Boland driving about 50 miles per hour, his brother said, they headed toward Andover, about 3 or 4 miles away, with the tailgate open.
Tim Boland jerked the steering wheel several times until Waalen's body and the motorcycle fell out of the truck - as they had planned, according to Ryan Boland.
The brothers parted shortly thereafter, around 12:30 a.m., according to court records. Ryan Boland said he returned to the garage, where he tore out and cut up a bloodied carpet. He placed the baseball bat in newspaper, then stashed it in a dumpster at an Anoka car wash, he testified.
Hours later, he said, he took his daughter to school. Savannah is now in the care of Waalen's sister.
Ryan Boland admitted that he lied to police when questioned later that day. For his felony obstruction of justice, he could receive up to 20 years in jail when sentenced in March.
That is half the sentence Tim Boland faces if convicted of second-degree murder when his trial begins next month. Second-degree murder charges against Ryan Boland were dropped in exchange for his plea.
Tim Boland's attorney, Bruce Rivers, did not attend Monday's hearing. When told about Ryan's testimony, he said, "This is the first I've heard of it. Ryan's lied to the police before."
Ryan Boland said he recalled the first thing he asked his brother when they began debating what to do with Waalen's body.
"What on Earth just happened?" he said he asked.
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419