WDAY: The News Leader

Published May 15, 2012, 06:42 PM

Jurors begin deliberations in Tara Andvik trial

MOORHEAD - Jurors in Clay County are deliberating the arson charges against Tara Andvik after receiving the case shortly after 5 p.m.

By: Mike Nowatzki, INFORUM, Forum staff reports, INFORUM

MOORHEAD - Jurors in Clay County are deliberating the arson charges against Tara Andvik after receiving the case shortly after 5 p.m.

Andvik's ex-boyfriend testified this morning that the rural Barnesville woman asked him to mail three letters, but he didn't know that they were supposedly from someone hired to kill her.

Jerren Ancira, a rancher with a long handlebar mustache from rural Auburn, Wyo., said he met Andvik in Texas in 2001 and they dated for about six months before he moved away. They have kept in touch since then, he said.

Late last winter or early this spring, Andvik, who was charged in November with three counts of first-degree arson for allegedly setting a series of fires at her rural Barnesville farmstead last October, asked Ancira to do a favor and mail some letters for her, he said.

Ancira said he received the letters in a manilla envelope on April 3 and dropped them in the mail in Auburn the same day. He didn't look at who the letters were addressed to, and he thought they were being sent to someone's wife or ex-wife about an affair, he said.

"I thought the letters were something different than what they were," he said in Clay County District Court.

The anonymous handwritten letters were received by Andvik, her attorney Steven Mottinger and a Forum reporter.

The letter to Andvik stated "He is going to kill you Tara."

The other two letters were identical, stating that Keith Beam, a TV producer from Wisconsin who had an affair with Andvik last year that ended before the fires, hired the letter writer for $50,000 to make Andvik disappear but then reneged when she didn't burn.

In a police interview, Andvik said she believed the "He" in the letter she received was referring to Beam. Beam has said he had nothing to do with the fires.

After authorities contacted Ancira about the letters, he said he went on the Internet and learned about the nature of the letters, which by that time were publicized by media.

"I was surprised," Ancira said, saying he felt Andvik hadn't been straight with him.

Ancira said he initially denied sending the letters because he didn't want to get in trouble, but he called the Clay County Attorney's Office two weeks ago and was assured he wouldn't.

Ancira said he talked to Andvik by phone on April 13, but he said he couldn't remember if he talked to her about the letters.

Shawn Gallagher, a forensic scientist and handwriting analyst with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said he was unable to determine if Andvik had written the letters because of differences in capital and lowercase characters between the letters and a handwriting sample from Andvik, and also because the letters also had unnatural characteristics in the writing, including blunt endings, pen lifts, hesitation and retouching.

"So whoever wrote them was disguising their handwriting?" Assistant County Attorney Heidi Davies asked.

"That's what it appears to me," Gallagher said.

The trial broke for lunch at noon with the prosecution's final witness, Deputy State Fire Marshal Andrea Wenzlaff, on the stand. Mottinger said he expects to call one defense witness, which will be followed by jury instructions and closing arguments. Judge Michael Kirk said he wants to send the case to the jury for deliberation today.