St. Croix River stabbing trial begins with tearful testimony

The trial began Monday for a Cambridge, Minnesota man charged in the deadly stabbing of a Wisconsin fisherman along the St. Croix River last spring. Levi Acre-Kendall, 20, is on trial for one count of first-degree reckless homicide and one count of second-degree intentional homicide for the stabbing death of 34-year-old Peter Kelly.

The prosecution’s star witness, Ross Lechman, took the stand Monday morning, excruciatingly describing his best friend’s final moments after the deadly confrontation.

“I knew he was bleeding bad. He was trying to talk, but he couldn’t talk. His mouth was full of blood,” Lechman said. “I just told him, ‘Hey Peter, hang in there.’ I just didn’t want him to go.”

Lechman and Kelly 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 Levi Acre-Kendall's group of friends, who were across the water in Wisconsin. Prosecutors and Lechman contend that Acre-Kendall’s crew was acting boorishly, cussing and smoking marijuana. Defense attorney Eric Nelson said it was crude "Deez Nutz" videos on a cell phone that seemed to ignite the cross-river confrontation.

As older dads and river regulars, Lechman and Kelly wanted it to stop. In the courtroom, the two sides are split on which group was more aggressive.

“There’s going to be a dispute about what was said to who, who started it, what was going on,” Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen said.

“This conduct bothered them, Nelson said. “But they did not call police to report the behavior. They did not stop at the entrance on either side to report the behavior.”

In the end, Lechman and Kelly drove across the river to confront the younger group of anglers. Jurors watched a video as Lechman re-enacted the events that unfolded with police investigators. Lechman said the two sides were jawing back and forth, and that Acre-Kendall was knocked to the ground during some pushing.

“Levi Acre-Kendall’s response was to stand up,” Nelson said. “You will see scrapes on him. He pulls out a knife -- a knife for cutting fishing line. He specifically tells them, ‘I don’t want to fight.’”

Lechman didn’t actually see his best friend get stabbed, but he claims Acre-Kendall showed no remorse in the immediate aftermath.

“I said to him, ‘You stabbed my buddy?’ He said in a stern voice, ‘Yes I did.’ And he slammed the door. The driver threw it into reverse and they took off.”

The question the jury must decide is whether or not it was murder or a case of self-defense.

Fox 9 reporter Paul Blume will be covering this trial from the courtroom. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulBlume_FOX9.