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Dave Roepke, Published September 29 2011

Silvernail: ‘I would never hurt her’

BRECKENRIDGE, Minn. – As the last known person to see Lori Roberts alive and the first to report her dead, police had an obvious and pointed question for Jeff Silvernail, her recently dumped ex-boyfriend.

Asked if he had anything to do with the death of the woman he called “boobear” in text messages, Silvernail claimed, as he still does, he couldn’t do that to Roberts, who had been his girlfriend since 2005 but was about to start dating another man.

“I would never hurt her,” he told police three hours after calling 911 the morning of Oct. 2, 2009, one of a half-dozen times officers questioned him. “She was my heart and soul.”

Prosecutors told a different story Wednesday in the opening day of the murder trial for Silvernail, a man who “would not and could not let go of” Roberts, said Eric Schieferdecker of the Attorney General’s Office.

Schieferdecker argued in his opening statement that Silvernail had the motive, the opportunity and owned the same type of handgun that likely fired the fatal shots to Roberts’ neck and chest, a 9-mm Hi-Point he claimed was stolen from a closet in Roberts’ home.

Though there is forensic evidence against Silvernail, Schieferdecker urged the jury not to expect made-for-TV moments in the trial, which could last through the end of next week.

“In this case, there will be no ‘CSI’ silver bullet,” he said.

Schieferdecker instead asked jurors to focus on the actions of Silvernail in the days leading up to the shooting, such as the often desperate text messages he sent her, his interception of a romantic text she sent to her new man and a later-deleted computer diary in which Silvernail recounted with discouragement the reduced frequency of their cuddling and sex in the month before the shooting.

The prosecutor also said Silvernail’s pickup was seen by neighbors at Roberts’ home at 6 a.m. on the day she was shot, though Silvernail says he left the house before 3 a.m., a claim echoed in a written diary entry found by police upon searching his home two months after the shooting.

In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Pam King said some of the physical evidence found in the investigation leaves unanswered questions, such as the identity of the person whose DNA was found under Roberts’ fingernails. The sample did not match Silvernail or anyone else to whom it was compared.

King asked the 12 jurors and two alternates, eight women and six men, to find that despite the tragic slaying, the DNA evidence shows “there is no answer.”

The 46-year-old defendant was arrested eight months after Roberts, 49, was shot in the bedroom of her home in Doran, a house from which he was in the process of moving out. He was charged with second-degree murder and later indicted on a first-degree count that would draw a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance for parole if he’s convicted.

Testifying on Wednesday, Wilkin County Sheriff Rick Fiedler, chief deputy at the time of the killing, said it was a blood sample matching Roberts found on Silvernail’s jeans that convinced officers to arrest him and seek charges. A sample of blood that likely included Roberts’ DNA was also found in his pickup.

“That was the decision-maker,” he said.

Law enforcement already was investigating him but hadn’t arrested Silvernail, whom relatives of Roberts had named immediately as their chief suspect – both to police and the media.

Defense attorney James Austad suggested in cross-examination of Fielder that Roberts’ blood got on the jeans of Silvernail when he fell to the floor after he found her body, which he’d told police had happened near the bathroom before later saying it happened near the bedroom.

Schieferdecker earlier in the day said a safe and a door in the Roberts home both appeared to have been broken into but had actually been damaged after they were opened without force.

Fiedler said in cross-examination that Silvernail did not ever propose to police the killing might have been a result of a burglary.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535