Jury to decide fate of Levi Acre-Kendall in St. Croix River stabbing

- With no verdict reached on Sunday, the fate of Levi Acre-Kendall rests in the hands of the jury that will continue deliberations on Monday morning.

The 20-year-old Cambridge, Minn. man is being charged with first and second-degree restless homicide and second-degree intentional homicide in the fatal stabbing of fisherman Peter Kelly along the St. Croix River on April 14.

Fatal stabbing on April 14

Peter Kelly and his friend, Ross Lechman, were fishing together on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River on April 14. There was a cross-river verbal altercation between their boat and Acre-Kendall’s group of friends, who were across the water on the Wisconsin side of the river.

Prosecutors say Acre-Kendall’s group was acting boorishly, cussing and smoking marijuana. Levi-Acre’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson says it was crude “Deez Nutz” videos on a cell phone that seemed to ignite the cross-river confrontation.

Kelly and Lechman eventually drove across the river to confront the younger group of anglers. There was a scuffle and Acre-Kendall reportedly pulled out a knife. Kelly was stabbed once in the left side of his chest, piercing his heart.

Closing arguments

The district attorney added a lesser homicide count before closing arguments on Saturday after Acre-Kendall spent Friday telling jurors his side of the story.

In the closing arguments, the prosecutor said Acre-Kendall and Kelly went “jab for jab” in a verbal altercation and Kelly knew the 20-year-old. Seconds later, Acre-Kendall stabbed Kelly.

The prosecutor argued that pulling the knife escalated – not deescalated – the confrontation.

The prosecutor pointed out that following the stabbing, no conversations between Acre-Kendall and his friends included the words “self-defense.”

Acre-Kendall reportedly posted a “Deez Nutz” video on social media the morning after the incident occurred, which the prosecutor equated to “dancing on Peter Kelly’s grave.” The prosecutor argued posting the video showed Acre-Kendall had an utter disregard for human life.

The district attorney argued that Acre-Kendall was not acting in self-defense, saying he had not been struck, chocked or kicked by Kelly, as had been previously stated in the trial.

In his closing arguments, Nelson, Acre-Kendall’s defense attorney, told the jury “actions speak louder than words.” Nelson said Kelly drove over to where Acre-Kendall and his group of friends were hanging out, parked far away, showed up the dark, counted the number of people and then proceeded to approach the group.

Nelson argued that Kelly scared Acre-Kendall so much he backed into his car and had “nowhere to go.” He said Kelly then lunged into the car and violently ripped the defendant away from it.

Nelson said there were “lots and lots and lots of bad decisions that day.” The first bad decision, he said, was when Kelly decided to take the law into his own hands.

Nelson said Acre-Kendall’s actions speak louder than works, citing his willingness to give police his knife, clothes and cell phone, as well as his decision to testify in his own defense.  

A big point of disagreement between the prosecution and the dense was whether Acre-Kendall was acting reasonable if his actions were in self-dense.

Levi Acre-Kendall’s Testimony

Acre-Kendall testified that there was an exchange of words and he was tackled to the ground.

“I popped back up and I had my fishing knife in my pocket,” he said. “I pulled it out and said, ‘What the f—k…get back, out of here.’”

Levi said the knife enraged Kelly, and Levi shuffled back into the passenger seat of his buddy’s car. It was just a matter of seconds, Levi said, until Kelly yanked him from the seat, the two grappling in a shoulder lock. The courtroom grew tense as he described what happened next.

“My body fell forward a little bit. The last thing I remember seeing was his tennis shoes and my flip-flops. I stabbed him.”

Kelly would take off running before collapsing and dying -- the stab wound piercing his heart. Prosecutor Dan Steffen went hard after the 20-year-old during cross-examination, getting Levi to admit he “intended to stab” Kelly.

The jury must decide whether the deadly confrontation was an act of self-defense or a case of murder. Regardless of the outcome, with all the emotional testimony this week, it would appear there will be no winners.

“I wish I could take it all back. I wish I could change it,” Acre-Kendall testified. “This year has sucked. Just really heavy on my shoulders. I’m so sorry.”

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