Conflict before stabbing death of St. Croix angler remembered differently at trial

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 Peter Kelly

Jurors heard different accounts of the confrontation that led to last spring's fatal stabbing of an angler on the St. Croix River as the homicide trial of a 20-year-old Cambridge man got underway Monday.

Levi Acre-Kendall maintains he stabbed 34-year-old Peter Kelly of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, in self defense. The men were fishing with friends on opposite sides of the St. Croix in Interstate Park on April 14 and their groups had argued across the river in the hours leading up to the stabbing.

The Star Tribune reports jurors heard dramatic contradictions from Acre-Kendall's lawyer and from Kelly's fishing partner about which group was more aggressive in hurling threats and slurs across the river.

Ross Lechman, who was fishing with Kelly on the Minnesota side of the river, testified that Acre-Kendall and his three friends were smoking marijuana, cursing, and behaving boorishly, FOX 9 reports. Acre-Kendall's defense attorney Eric Nelson told jurors it was crude videos being played on a cell phone that ignited the conflict, FOX says.

Lechman testified that when he and Kelly told the younger men to quiet down because the park was a family place, Acre-Kendall first yelled back that they should shut up and leave – but later challenged them to "come over and make us" quiet down, the Star Tribune reports.

By all accounts, Kelly and Lechman did eventually cross the river to confront the other group. Acre-Kendall was pushed to the ground in a scuffle. When he stood up, he drew a knife but FOX says his attorney emphasized that Acre-Kendall also told the other men " I don't want to fight."

Lechman testified that he was looking away when Kelly was stabbed and tearfully described the scene as his childhood friend took his final breaths after the other group of anglers had driven away, FOX says.

KARE 11 reports district attorney Dan Steffen told jurors, "It's the State's opinion that when you stab somebody in the heart…you've obviously have little regard for human life."

Acre-Kendall is charged with first-degree reckless homicide and second-degree intentional homicide. He reportedly told investigators he was attempting to leave the scene and the stabbing occurred as Kelly tried to pull him out of a vehicle. Acre-Kendall is expected to testify in his own defense.

According to WCCO, jurors will need to decide whether Acre-Kendall's use of force was justified after Kelly initiated physical contact.

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Peter Kelly left behind a wife and five young children. The trial is underway at the Polk County, Wisconsin, courthouse in Balsam Lake, but jurors were selected from Chippewa County after the judge ruled that local residents might be influenced by inflammatory comments attached to online news coverage or on social media.

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