Supporters of 19-year-old Levi Acre-Kendall filled at least half of a Polk County, Wisconsin courtroom Thursday morning for a hearing on bail jumping charges that was all about Twitter: What did Levi Acre-Kendall tweet? When did he tweet? Who saw his tweets? What message, if any, was the young man trying to send on social media?
"I think Mr. Acre-Kendall is savvy about social media," Judge Molly Galewyrick said. "I believe he understands how it works."
Already charged with a murder that could send him away to prison for a long time, the Cambridge, Minn. man is now heading to trial on felony bail jumping charges.
"When he is released from jail, he immediately starts tweeting," Polk County District Attorney Daniel Steffen said.
Prosecutors allege while out on bail, Acre-Kendall's Twitter activity violated the judge's orders to have no contact with two of his best friends -- two friends who were witnesses to the stabbing death of fellow angler Peter Kelly on the St. Croix River.
"There's no evidence that he directly contacted any of these individuals," defense attorney Eric Nelson said. "He didn't text them, email them, or private message them."
Upon his release, Acre-Kendall apparently changed his profile photo to a childhood picture of the three friends together in happier, more innocent times. He also posted a couple of questionable tweets that upset the victim's loved ones, including this:
"If you are praying for me, please keep the Kelly family in mind as well. I never intended for this to happen. I wish it never did."
Both of the young men on the no-contact list were following the defendant, and admitted to investigators they saw Acre-Kendall's tweeting.
"It's the state's position that that is communication,." Steffen said. "That is they, BFFs, best friends forever -- we are in this together. That is communication in today's day and age."
"These are people that mean a lot to him," Nelson countered. "It's not some secret message. There's no evidence, no intent to say hey guys, let's keep our stories straight."
Family won't lose $75,000
Judge Galewyrick acknowledged that the defense had a compelling argument, and while she found there to be enough evidence for the charges to move forward, she declined the prosecution's attempt to seize the $75,000 cash bond the Acre-Kendall family posted. Instead, she bumped bail in the murder case up to $125,000, with another $20,000 for bail jumping.
Levi Acre-Kendall and his family would need to come up with $145,000 to get him out of jail before trial. If that happens, the judge made it very clear there is to be no social media at all going forward.
Acre-Kendall is charged with first-degree reckless homicide for the April 14 stabbing at Interstate Park. According to the charges, 34-year-old Peter Kelly was fishing with a friend on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River, and at some point got into a verbal altercation with Acre-Kendall's group of friends on the Wisconsin side.
Kelly's family has said Acre-Kendall's group was doing drugs and acting belligerent, and Kelly had enough and went to confront the anglers. Polk County prosecutors acknowledged Kelly "had consumed alcohol" prior to the confrontation -- an incident that would end with Kelly stabbed in the chest.