Published May 08 2012
Prosecutor paints fires as way for arson suspect to pin blame on ex-lover
That was the picture painted in Clay County District Court by Assistant County Attorney Heidi Davies on Tuesday, the first day of the trial against Andvik, a 34-year-old rural Barnesville woman accused of setting a series of fires on her property destroying her home and a barn.
Davies told the 12-person jury that a relationship between Andvik and Keith Beam, a 46-year-old Wisconsin producer of an outdoor TV program, initially started as a working friendship. Andvik, a bow-hunting enthusiast, emailed Beam in 2010 to ask advice about how to edit a video, Davies said.
That correspondence quickly turned into something romantic and intense.
Eventually, Andvik told Beam that she would be getting a divorce from her husband, Davies said, and Beam later proposed to her.
However, when it became clear Andvik hadn’t gotten a divorce, Beam ended their relationship, at which point Andvik became upset, Davies told the jury in her opening statement.
When the series of fires started at her property last October, Andvik, who Davies said was present at every single fire, tried to direct suspicion at Beam.
“One other possibility she kept going back to repeatedly was that this must be Keith Beam,” Davies said. “Repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, Keith Beam’s name comes up.”
Davies also referred to three anonymous, handwritten letters that were mailed last month to Andvik, her attorney and to a reporter at The Forum. The letters claimed that Beam had offered the writer $50,000 to make Andvik disappear, and were postmarked Auburn, Wyo.
Davies told the jury that investigators have since determined that Andvik has an ex-boyfriend currently living in Auburn.
“Between January and April of this year, the defendant had several phone calls with her friend in Auburn,” Davies said.
In his opening remarks, though, Andvik’s attorney, Steve Mottinger, tried to describe the relationship in exactly the opposite way.
It was Beam, not Andvik, he said, who felt wronged by what happened to their relationship and sought revenge.
“Keith Beam pursued Tara Andvik relentlessly,” Mottinger said, referring to explicit and graphic emails sent by Beam.
Although Andvik did visit an attorney and draw up divorce papers, Mottinger told the jury that she had second thoughts and decided to call off her relationship with Beam, which made the man livid.
“He hitched his star to the wagon, and it didn’t work out,” Mottinger said.
Mottinger did not explicitly tell the jury that Beam was responsible for the fires, but he did say that Andvik would not be connected to the arsons.
“You will not see any direct physical evidence linking Tara Andvik to those fires,” he said.
After the attorneys outlined their respective cases, the jury heard testimony from several firefighters and other law enforcement officials who responded to the fires, several of whom referred to Andvik’s behavior as suspicious.
On the night of Oct. 19, when her house was on fire, Barnesville firefighter Dave Grommesh said he thought Andvik had an attitude that seemed out-of-place.
“She seemed a little bit cocky, real agitated that way,” he said. “It didn’t seem to be the type of reaction you’d see after losing your entire house.”
Mottinger, though, tried to deflect that observation.
“Would it be fair to say that different people react differently to fires, tragedies, that sort of thing?” he asked.
“That could be, yes,” Grommesh replied.
Fawn Krosch, a Clay County sheriff’s deputy, testified that Andvik’s behavior a few nights prior also struck her as odd.
“She mentioned that neither her or Matt smoked, which I thought was odd, because I never mentioned that cigarettes were involved,” Krosch said. “There were a few things in my brief conversation with her that I thought were strange.”
Davies also tried to establish in afternoon testimony that Andvik’s presence at the property, and no one else’s, was a common thread with all the fires.
Mottinger, though, tried in cross-examination to show that between when the fires were set and when authorities actually responded, there would have been enough time for somebody to get away.
Andvik faces three counts of first-degree arson for fires allegedly set on her property on Oct. 12 and 19. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine if convicted.
The trial will pick up with more witness testimony this morning and will continue Thursday, Monday, and possibly Tuesday. Jurors will have Friday off.
Forum report Mike Nowatzki contributed to this report.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535