Elizabeth Hawes did her best to care for her siblings. It started in childhood, her lawyer said, when she became best friends with her older brother, Edwin. She was Robin to his Batman. He wasn't socially sophisticated, so she later helped him court his future wife.

Then there was brother Andrew, whose bipolar condition made him a handful and sometimes suicidal, the attorney said. Elizabeth fancied herself a mother figure to him, and picked up the family pieces after their father killed himself.

As hard as she tried, the lawyer said, relationships reached a breaking point in 2007, when Elizabeth and Andrew believed Edwin had embezzled more than a $1 million from a family landscape business and a grandmother's trust fund.

A year later, in the fall of 2008, Elizabeth and Andrew were charged in the vicious killing of 46-year-old Edwin, whose burned body police found in a fire pit more than 200 miles from the Twin Cities.

As one of Anoka County's more spectacular trials in years started Monday, it was clear that attorneys on both sides of the aisle were going to use the family's various degrees of dysfunction to build their case and place responsibility for Edwin Hawes' death in the hands of a brother and a sister now willing to point fingers at each other. It was Elizabeth Hawes, 45, whose murder trial opened Monday. Andrew Hawes, 37, and his girlfriend, Kristina Dorniden, 30, also face trial. Authorities allege that the three of them planned Edwin's death.

Conflicting scenarios

"Who is responsible for the execution of Edwin Hawes? Who inflicted the fatal blow?" Assistant County Attorney Paul Young asked in his opening argument. "Why would Edwin's sister do such a thing?"

Unlike in many homicide trials, Young's words filled an empty courtroom -- there was not a single relative in the gallery.

In his opening, local defense attorney Peter Wold painted a scenario in which only Andrew Hawes could have planned and killed his brother. He claimed Hawes duped his sister into helping take Edwin Hawes' body to Andrew's farm in Cottonwood County where it was burned. Before they reached the farm, Edwin had been shot in the chest with a crossbow, beaten with a baseball bat and run over.

"Fact is often stranger than fiction," Wold said. "Elizabeth has seen more trauma than most people see in a lifetime."

Young, head of the county attorney office's criminal division, presented the jury with a timeline of what he said led to Hawes' demise. Throughout the 1990s, Edwin and Andrew Hawes ran a successful landscape business. But in 2007 and 2008, Andrew and Elizabeth Hawes both filed complaints with police alleging that Edwin stole money from the business. At one point, Andrew allegedly tried to run his brother over with his car. A month before he was killed, Edwin Hawes filed a restraining order against his sister.

Hours before Edwin's body would be discovered by police in October 2008, Andrew asked his sister to drive to an Andover home at which Edwin stayed to repossess a Volkswagen Passat. When she arrived, Young said, Andrew told her the real reason he needed her help: He had killed Edwin and needed help getting rid of the body.

They went to the farm, where a fire was built to destroy Edwin's remains. Deputies spotted the raging fire, with Elizabeth Hawes standing nearby. They asked if she knew of Edwin's whereabouts. "Maybe he was in an accident," Young said she told deputies. "I hope he's dead."

Minutes later, still by the fire, police said Hawes told them "that's not my brother in there." Investigators found Edwin's wallet in the road near his house, a pool of blood in the driveway and splattered blood on the outside walls of the stucco house. Somebody spray-painted the bat used to beat Edwin, Young said.

According to Wold, Elizabeth Hawes was stunned when her younger brother dropped the bombshell of Edwin's death. Andrew Hawes' desire to get the money his brother allegedly stole had become an obsession months before, Wold said.

So Elizabeth Hawes, hoping to calm her brother down, agreed to go to Edwin's house. As Andrew Hawes told her news about their brother, she screamed and ran to a nearby park, where deputies were looking into a burglary call, Wold said.

When questioned later by police, Andrew Hawes spun several alibis, leaving his sister holding the bag for killing her childhood friend, Wold said. He agreed she may not have acted rationally, but there is no evidence she planned the homicide or helped get rid of the body.

Said Young: "They killed him because they thought he was a bad guy."

David Chanen • 612-673-4465