BALSAM LAKE, WIS. – The fourth day in the trial of a Minnesota man charged with fatally stabbing a fellow fisherman introduced more contradictions and confusion for jurors to sort through in deciding whether the act was criminal or self-defense.
Levi Acre-Kendall, 20, of Cambridge, Minn., is on trial in Polk County Circuit Court in Balsam Lake on one count each of first-degree reckless homicide and second-degree intentional homicide in the April 14 stabbing death of St. Croix Falls, Wis., resident Peter S. Kelly.
Kelly’s best friend, Ross Lechman, testified Monday that he, not Kelly, pushed Acre-Kendall before the stabbing. Acre-Kendall’s friend, Jacob Mossberg, testified Tuesday and Wednesday that it was Kelly, not Lechman, who pushed Acre-Kendall.
Then Acre-Kendall’s friend Steven Phillips took the witness stand Thursday and testified that Lechman was the one who pushed Acre-Kendall.
Atop contradictions about who did what and which group of men started a verbal dispute that led to the stabbing, the prosecution and defense have aggressively raised doubts about the credibility of witnesses from opposing camps.
With no dispassionate witnesses, jurors will have to sift through testimony from the victim’s and suspect’s friends laced with emotion, motive and roots that run deep.
Kelly, a 34-year-old married father of five, was stabbed once in the chest about 9:45 p.m. after he and Lechman became engaged in a dispute with Acre-Kendall and his friends along the St. Croix River in Interstate Park. Kelly and Lechman had been on the Minnesota side and grew upset with the swearing and marijuana use from Acre-Kendall’s group on the Wisconsin side.
Phillips testified that he and Acre-Kendall were watching videos on a cellphone in which a man uses the punchline “deez nutz.” Phillips said he and Acre-Kendall said the punchline out loud several times, apparently angering Kelly and Lechman.
Someone on the Minnesota side yelled something, Phillips said, and said they would be over. Acre-Kendall replied that he’d see them then.
Kelly, whose blood alcohol content tested at .043, and Lechman eventually drove over to confront Acre-Kendall, Mossberg, Phillips and another friend, Hank Michaels.
Phillips testified that once the other men announced their presence, Acre-Kendall made a comment. They identified Acre-Kendall’s voice as the one from earlier, Phillips said, and Lechman tackled him, both men falling to the ground.
Acre-Kendall took a knife out of his pocket and told Lechman and Kelly he was armed and didn’t want to fight, Phillips testified. Acre-Kendall walked toward Michaels’ car, but Kelly pursued him.
Phillips said he got into the back seat of Michaels’ car and saw Acre-Kendall getting into the front passenger seat, nearly touching the car seat, when Kelly reached in and dragged him out in a shoulder lock. Neither Lechman nor Acre-Kendall’s friends saw the stabbing.
Kelly’s friend and former wrestling coach, Daniel Clark, later testified that Kelly was “one of the greatest men that I’ve ever known.”
Clark, a teacher and coach in St. Croix Falls, said Kelly went to work early so he could help with youth and high school wrestling in the afternoon.
The prosecution rested its case on an emotional note with testimony from Kelly’s widow, Christie Kelly. She said she and the couple’s children are in counseling. “They are very grief-stricken,” she said.
She described her husband as a fun partner who was active in his children’s lives. Testimony that he used slurs and profanity and was aggressive was not like him, she said.
Outside the hearing of jurors, one of Acre-Kendall’s attorneys, Doug Hazelton, moved the court to dismiss the case for lack of evidence, a common move.
Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen also said Wisconsin’s “castle doctrine” shouldn’t apply in Acre-Kendall’s case. Acre-Kendall’s attorneys believe he should be shielded by the law, which protects self-defense in homes, businesses and vehicles.
Judge Molly GaleWyrick said she will rule on those matters Friday. The defense will then present its case.