Just a few days ago, Elizabeth Hawes took the stand in an Anoka County courtroom, emphatically explaining to the jury that she played no role in her brother Edwin's gruesome death in October 2008.
Authorities had said that Edwin was beaten, shot with a crossbow, and run over with a car at his Andover home before his younger brother, Andrew, and Elizabeth took his body to a family farm 200 miles away, where it was burned in a fire pit.
Elizabeth said that she learned of Edwin's death only after Andrew told her and that she was stunned. And although she testified that she drove the pickup truck with Andrew to the farm in Cottonwood County, she said she didn't know he was going to burn Edwin's remains.
"I kept thinking, "How could this get any worse? Why I am in the middle of a Stephen King thing? Why isn't my life normal?" she said.
But after 12 hours of deliberation, the jury came to the conclusion Friday that Hawes helped plan her brother's death. The guilty verdict of aiding and abetting first-degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole. She showed no emotion as the verdict was read.
"I couldn't be more disappointed with the verdict," said defense attorney Peter Wold, who buried his head in his hands when it was read. "I take full responsibility for it. She had nothing to do with this murder. She loved her brother."
Andrew Hawes, 37, and his fiancée, Kristina Dorniden, 30, also have been charged in the case and are awaiting separate trials.
Although Wold portrayed Elizabeth Hawes, 45, as the person who kept her family together during crisis after crisis, nobody showed up to support her in court Friday. Her husband, Daniel Romig, spent the morning outside the courtroom waiting for the verdict but left before the jury returned about 3 p.m. He didn't want to talk about Elizabeth but said he loved his wife.
During her testimony, Hawes hinted that her husband was involved in Edwin's death. He has not been charged in the case.
Assistant County Attorneys Deidre Aanstad and Paul Young methodically presented direct and circumstantial evidence throughout the two-week trial. They argued that Hawes wanted to kill her brother because she believed he had stolen more than $1 million from a family business and bank accounts belonging to his mother and grandmother. Edwin was granted a restraining order against her a month before he died.
Prosecutors said Elizabeth cased his house as part of the plan to kill him. After his death, they said, police found latex gloves with her DNA and Edwin's blood.
The jury appeared to question whether Hawes did case the house. During deliberations, the jury asked several times about a note Elizabeth left with Edwin's roommate on the day she went to his house that asked him to repay the stolen money.
After the trial, Wold said he should have addressed the note more thoroughly for the jury. He was also frustrated that Judge Jenny Walker Jasper ruled the jury couldn't hear about Andrew Hawes' conversation with Elizabeth about how Edwin died.
"[Not allowing the conversation to be admitted] was devastating to the defense," Wold said.
Prosecutors acknowledged that it is not clear whether Elizabeth Hawes was present when her brother died. Wold said that all the evidence pointed to Andrew, and that prosecutors were "guessing or assuming she persuaded or helped Andy to kill their brother." In his closing, he said guilt by association is not law in America.
In her closing argument, prosecutor Aanstad said that "the defense wants you to believe she was a passive participant, but she knew there would be a cover up."
"When [Elizabeth and Andrew] didn't get the justice they wanted, they took the law in their own hands," Aanstad said
Hawes will be sentenced Friday. When told about the verdict, Christina Miller, Edwin's ex-wife, said "as long as a jury of her peers found her guilty in any way with her brother's murder, she should pay. Pay with something important like her freedom, and pay as long as possible.
"My family and I will forever miss Ed," she said. "He was a wonderful man, a father, a friend and a human who didn't deserve to die like that."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465