Polk County Judge Gale Wyrick ruled there is reason for a "change of venire" in the murder trial of 19-year-old Levi Acre-Kendall. The Cambridge, Minn. man is charged with murder in the April 14 stabbing death of another fisherman during an argument on the St. Croix River.
Judge Wyrick said she believes media coverage of Acre-Kendall case has been "neutral", but public commentary has been "inflammatory,” raising "significant concerns" about whether he could get a fair trial in Polk County, Wisconsin.
The judge will soon determine which county the jury will be selected from, but Acre-Kendall’s trial will still be held at the Polk County courthouse. Judge Wyrick said the court will likely "head east" to find a jury pool outside of Twin Cities media market. The jury would then be sequestered at trial.
In addition to media attention, Acre-Kendall’s defense attorney wanted the trial moved out of Polk County due to the status held by district attorney Daniel Steffen and the victim, 34-year-old Peter Kelly. Steffen is a native son with a high-profile job and deep community involvement, and Kelly is survived by a large family, a deep social network and community connections as a wrestling coach. Steffen argued against a change of venue, saying a larger juror pool and a questionnaire could result in a fair trial.
A Dec. 7 trial date has been set, with the trial expected to last about 2 weeks.
Castle Doctrine argument
Acre-Kendall’s lawyer made a compelling case to dismiss the murder charges Wednesday, citing Wisconsin’s castle doctrine. Attorney Eric Nelson said blood evidence inside of a car shows Acre-Kendall was acting in self-defense.
"All of the witnesses describe that Mr. Kelly had Mr. Acre-Kendall in what's called a shoulder lock," Nelson said. "It's at that point Mr Kelly is stabbed a single time."
The prosecutor blasted that argument, saying the castle doctrine doesn’t apply in this case because Acre-Kendall was in a friend's car -- not one he owns.
"Is there blood inside the vehicle? Yes. Was there blood of Kelly's found in the vehicle? Yes. Would that be expected with an individual who stabbed a person and gets a ride back to Minnesota with a bloody knife and bloody clothing, that there is blood inside the vehicle? Yes," Steffen argued.
The judge wouldn’t rule on dismissing the charges Wednesday, telling the court a trial is where factual disputes can be addressed.
Levi Acre-Kendall is charged with first-degree reckless homicide for the April 14 stabbing at Interstate Park. He surrendered 2 days after the deadly riverfront altercation, and the knife allegedly used in the incident was handed over to investigators.
According to the charges, 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.
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