BALSAM LAKE, Wis. (KMSP) - Levi Acre-Kendall has been found not guilty on all counts in the April 14 stabbing death of Peter Kelly along the St. Croix River. There was audible crying from Acre-Kendall’s mother as the final not guilty verdict was read. With a full acquittal, the 20-year-old from Cambridge, Minn. was released from custody Monday afternoon.
The jury of 7 women and 5 men deliberated for more than 17 hours over the weekend. A bit of new information released after Monday’s verdict was that both sides were working on a plea deal as the jury struggled through deliberations, but Acre-Kendall rejected all deals, putting his faith in the jury. The deal on the table Sunday night was for the third and final second-degree reckless homicide count. The two sides would have put the sentencing decision in the hands of the judge on a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 25 years.
The jury was deadlocked 11 to 1 on a "not guilty" verdict for the second-degree reckless homicide count. It’s not clear what swayed the lone holdout to change their verdict. Fox 9 obtained some of the jury’s handwritten notes to the court, providing a glimpse at what had them deadlocked for so long, including the legality of Acre-Kendall’s knife.
Reaction from both sides
After the verdict, Peter Kelly’s brother, Mike, said that if you have money, you can hire a good attorney. With frustration, he added “as long as you’re in a car, you can kill somebody.” The Kelly family said Peter's widow, Christie, didn't want to be in the courtroom Monday for the reading of the verdict.
“We’re crushed,” Kelly said. “Our life will never be the same.”
Acre-Kendall’s defense attorney, Eric Nelson, said there were “no winners, only survivors” in the outcome of the trial.
“Words are often inadequate to convey the depth of an emotion, but they’re all we have, so please accept our profound thanks," the judge said after the verdict. "Jury duty is always an imposition. A one-day trial takes people from their jobs, their routines, but a high-profile trial weeks before the busiest holiday of the year, dealing with an unspeakable tragedy, is almost beyond the pale.”
Released from jail
The Polk County jail confirmed Acre-Kendall's release shortly after 2 p.m. Monday. He was allowed to leave from a back exit, away from the media. The Polk County sheriff confirmed his department provided a "secure ride" for Acre-Kendall upon his release.
What the jury had to consider
The first decision for the jury was whether to convict on second-degree intentional homicide. The challenge for prosecutors was proving Acre-Kendall killed Peter Kelly intentionally. The jury found Acre-Kendall not guilty on that count.
After coming to a not guilty verdict on intentional homicide, the jury considered first-degree reckless homicide. The two key requirements for a conviction on that count:
1. That Acre-Kendall had criminally-reckless conduct, and
2. Had an utter disregard for human life.
The final charge to consider was one added just Saturday: second-degree reckless homicide. The same as first-degree reckless homicide, but prosecutors don't need to show an utter disregard for human life. The jury found Acre-Kendall not guilty on that charge as well.
The big wild card was self-defense. Since Levi Acre-Kendall used deadly force, the jury had to believe he faced imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.