BALSAM LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Jurors on Monday acquitted a young Minnesota man who said he was acting in self-defense when he fatally stabbed a Wisconsin fisherman who had confronted him and his friends along a river last spring.
In its third day of deliberations, the jury in northwestern Wisconsin returned not guilty verdicts on all three homicide charges against Levi Acre-Kendall, 20, in Polk County Circuit Court.
Acre-Kendall, of Cambridge, Minn., was acquitted of second-degree intentional homicide and first- and second-degree reckless homicide. The defendant testified he feared for his life when he stabbed 34-year-old Peter Kelly, a father of five from St. Croix Falls, as Kelly dragged him from a vehicle.
After the verdicts were read, defense attorney Eric Nelson said his client was in “disbelief,” the Star Tribune reported. The defendant’s mother, Lavonne Acre, cried out when her son was acquitted.
“There were no winners in this case — only survivors,” Nelson said. “Also, no one should consider the verdict as condoning of the poor decisions made by Mr. Acre-Kendall or anyone else at the time surrounding this tragic event.”
Kelly and a friend, Ross Lechman, were fishing on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River on April 14 and became upset with foul language and marijuana use from a fishing party on the Wisconsin side of the river. Later that night, Kelly and Lechman drove to the Wisconsin side and confronted the group.
Lechman testified that he pushed Acre-Kendall to the ground after he used profane language. Acre-Kendall testified that he pulled out a knife to protect himself. He said Kelly followed him to a friend’s car and pulled him from the vehicle in a shoulder lock.
Prosecutors argued Acre-Kendall’s use of force was unnecessary.
Acre-Kendall took the stand Friday. He tearfully testified that he feared for his life before he fatally stabbed Kelly but is sorry he did it. Nelson called that the turning point in the trial, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
“His testimony in general was honest, it was sincere, (and) it was heartfelt,” Nelson said of his client.
Prosecutor Dan Steffen, the Polk County district attorney, said he was “disappointed” with the verdicts.
“We poured our heart and souls into this thing,” Steffen said. He said having to explain to Kelly’s family “that the person responsible for the death of their loved one is not going to be convicted, of anything at this point, is extremely difficult.”
Nelson said the jurors had deadlocked Saturday evening on the lesser count, second-degree reckless homicide. That prompted both sides to re-enter plea negotiations, Nelson said, but his client did not want to plead guilty.
After the verdicts, Kelly’s brother, Mike Kelly, 41, said the family was worried because of the reputation of Kendall-Acre’s attorneys, Nelson and Doug Hazelton. Peter Kelly’s widow, Christie Kelly, did not want to be in the courtroom when the verdicts were read, KMSP-TV reported.
“We’re crushed,” Mike Kelly said. “Our life will never be the same.”
Acre-Kendall was released from the Polk County Jail on Monday afternoon after posting bond on a bail-jumping charge related to the homicide case.