BALSAM LAKE, WIS. – A Minnesota man accused of fatally stabbing a St. Croix River fisherman will be tried before jurors selected from outside the Wisconsin county where the killing occurred due to the heavy publicity surrounding the case, a judge ruled Wednesday.
However, Levi Acre-Kendall, 19, of Cambridge, will still be tried in Polk County, where Peter S. Kelly was killed, Judge Molly GaleWyrick said during a hearing at Polk County Circuit Court in Balsam Lake.
“I have significant concerns about whether this defendant could get a fair trial…” GaleWyrick said in granting the change of venire. The judge also noted that both Kelly and prosecutor Dan Steffen grew up in Polk County and are well known.
The judge decided that jurors from outside Polk County will be brought to Balsam Lake and sequestered for the trial’s duration because the courthouse is bigger and more accommodating than others in the area.
The county that the jury pool will come from has not been determined, although GaleWyrick said Rusk and Sawyer counties — east of Polk — are possibilities.
Jury selection is scheduled to take place Dec. 3 and 4, with a two-week trial set for Dec. 7.
Acre-Kendall faces one count of first-degree reckless homicide in the April 14 death of Kelly, a married father of five.
Kelly, 34, was killed after he and his friend, Ross Lechman, had a dispute with Acre-Kendall and his friends. The two groups were fishing on opposite banks of the St. Croix in Interstate Park when Acre-Kendall’s group apparently grew loud and profane.
Authorities have said that Kelly and Lechman grew upset with the behavior of Acre-Kendall’s group, and eventually drove from the Minnesota side of the river to confront the younger men on the Wisconsin riverbank.
Acre-Kendall’s attorney, Eric Nelson, had filed a motion requesting a change of venue because of the pretrial publicity. He also requested a change of venire — meaning jurors would come from another county — if a change of venue wasn’t granted.
Steffen, the Polk County district attorney, opposed the motion, noting that knowledge of a case wasn’t enough to disqualify potential jurors, and that lawyers could vet people for bias during jury selection.
‘Castle doctrine’ argued
Also on Wednesday, GaleWyrick said she wouldn’t make an immediate decision on Nelson’s motion to dismiss the first-degree reckless homicide charge against Acre-Kendall. She said she agreed with Steffen that the motion was “premature.”
Nelson had argued that the charge should be dropped because of Wisconsin’s “castle doctrine,” which gives people additional legal protection if they are prosecuted for using deadly force against someone they believe unlawfully enters their house, business or vehicle and is perceived as a threat.
Kelly was reaching into a car and trying to pull Acre-Kendall out when Acre-Kendall stabbed him, Nelson argued.
Steffen argued that there was not enough information to weigh the merits of the motion, and that Nelson had “selectively chosen” evidence to support his theory.
Steffen also disputed the assertion that Kelly was in the car when he was stabbed. Blood evidence in the car could have been transferred there by Acre-Kendall, who fled the scene with his friends, he said.
In addition, Steffen argued, the castle doctrine doesn’t apply because Acre-Kendall was not in his own car at the time of the incident.