MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Defense attorneys Eric Nelson and Doug Hazelton believe the key to the case for Levi Acre-Kendall was his own testimony, where he stated he feared for his life and was trying to get away from Peter Kelly.
Acre-Kendall was acquitted of all charges Tuesday in Kelly’s stabbing death and released from custody.
Polk County District Attorney Dan Steffen was visibly emotional as he told reporters he felt jurors may have seen Acre-Kendall, 19 at the time of the stabbing, as a kid, not a man.
“I am concerned this sets a really bad precedent for the society that we are in,” Steffen said.
“His concern is that this invites anyone to pull a knife out at any fist fight but the bottom line is this wasn’t a fight,” Nelson responded.
Nelson’s firm, Halberg, takes on 500 cases per year for offenses ranging from DWI to murder.
Nelson said the Acre-Kendall case was unique because it was relatable to many people.
“Every person that paid attention to this case could put themselves in either position, either that of Mr. Kelly or Mr. Acre-Kendall,” he said.
In another high-profile 2011 case, Nelson represented former Minnesota Viking Joe Senser’s wife, Amy Senser. Senser served less than 2.5 years after being sentenced for criminal vehicular homicide in the hit-and-run death of a Minneapolis man.
During the case, Senser said she thought she hit a construction barrel or pothole and did not know she hit a person. After the case, a new state law was passed that cut off the ignorance defense in hit-and-run cases.
“I got a lot of hate mail that asked, ‘How can you call yourself a human being?’ a lot of those types of emails,” Nelson said.
While he calls the Senser case incredibly divisive, Nelson said the Acre-Kendall case brought out many supporters.
Peter Kelly’s family also had many supporters. After the verdict, Mike Kelly, the brother of Peter Kelly, expressed his anger over the acquittal.
“In this small town if you have money to have lawyer you will be able to do whatever you want, kill someone and get away with it,” Mike Kelly said.
Nelson expressed deepest sympathies for the Kelly family, but said this rare case was based on facts.
“I honestly care about every single client that I have,” Nelson said. “I have been convinced he acted in self-defense from the second I met him and he told us his story.”