Charges against a Minnesota man who is alleged to have fatally stabbed a St. Croix River fisherman should be dismissed because the victim initiated the physical confrontation by reaching into a parked car to drag the man out, according to court documents.

The victim, Peter S. Kelly pursued Levi C. Acre-Kendall the night of April 14 after Acre-Kendall retreated to the safety of a friend’s car at the end of an hourslong verbal feud along the riverbank, according to a motion recently filed in Polk County Circuit Court by Acre-Kendall’s lawyer.

In that motion, attorney Eric Nelson wrote that Kelly’s blood was found inside the car, not outside, indicating that Kelly was in the car when the fatal confrontation occurred.

The location of the blood and other evidence suggest that Acre-Kendall acted in self-defense, and that the case should be dismissed because Wisconsin’s “castle doctrine,” which protects self-defense in homes and businesses, also applies to cars, the motion said.

“… Mr. Acre-Kendall reasonably believed that the force was necessary to prevent the imminent death or great bodily harm to himself,” Nelson wrote. “… Mr. Kelly’s actions in reaching into the motor vehicle in an attempt to remove Mr. Acre-Kendall constituted an unlawful act — specifically assault.”

The doctrine, however, does not automatically mean a case can’t be prosecuted. Nelson said that if the case isn’t dismissed, however, jurors should be instructed about the law.

Acre-Kendall is charged in Polk County, Wis., with one count of first-degree reckless homicide and two counts of bail jumping.

The stabbing occurred after Kelly, 34, and his friend, Ross Lechman, became engaged in a dispute with Acre-Kendall, 19, and his friends as the groups fished opposite banks of the St. Croix in Interstate Park. Kelly, a father of five from St. Croix Falls, and Lechman, were on the Minnesota riverbank. Acre-Kendall, of Cambridge, Minn., and his friends were on the Wisconsin side.

Earlier this spring, Polk County sheriff’s investigator Rick Gearhart testified at a court hearing that Kelly and Lechman became upset after Acre-Kendall’s group became loud and profane. Kelly’s brother, who was not there, has said that Acre-Kendall’s group was also smoking marijuana. Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen has said that Kelly had been drinking alcohol that night.

At one point, according to Gearhardt, Kelly and Lechman told the younger men to “show more respect.” Someone in Acre-Kendall’s group then challenged the older men to come over.

Nelson’s motion, which cites police reports, said that when the older men drove over in the dark, they parked “a significant distance” away, hid behind a tree and discussed whether they could “take” the younger men. They then appeared from behind the tree, and Kelly allegedly told Acre-Kendall, “Do you feel a real man’s muscles?”

Gearhart testified that Lechman admitted to shoving Acre-Kendall to the ground, and that Acre-Kendall stood up armed with a knife.

Acre-Kendall’s friend stepped between Acre-Kendall and Kelly, according to Nelson’s motion, but Kelly slapped the friend’s hand and called him a name.

That’s when Acre-Kendall retreated to his friend’s car, followed by Kelly, who reached inside and put Acre-Kendall in a “shoulder lock,” the motion said. Kelly was then stabbed once in the chest.

Nelson also has filed motions asking that the bail-jumping charges be dismissed and the case be moved from Polk County due to publicity.

Steffen, meanwhile, filed motions Monday to admit evidence about the “consumption and attempted disposal of illegal drugs and paraphernalia” and to keep Nelson from presenting “good character” evidence about Acre-Kendall’s lack of criminal convictions.

A motion hearing is scheduled for July 15.


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