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Published June 28 2012

Barnesville arsonist finally admits to fires: 'I don’t understand why I did it'

MOORHEAD – For months, Tara Andvik denied setting fires to her rural Barnesville farmstead, proclaiming her innocence to her family, investigators, firefighters and anyone willing to listen in cyberspace.

Even after a jury found her guilty her of three counts of first-degree arson, she wrote a letter to the ex-lover she tried to pin the fires on, still claiming she didn’t set them.

But when it came time Thursday for a judge to decide her fate, a sobbing Andvik took responsibility for the first time for the October fires that destroyed her barn and the farmhouse that also was home to her husband and two children.

“I didn’t intend for things to go this far,” she said in Clay County District Court, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit.

“I don’t understand why I did it,” she added, noting she had been abusing prescription drugs for two years, since the death of her stillborn daughter.

Judge Michael Kirk, calling it a “conundrum” to see someone with an otherwise clean criminal record now in so much trouble, sentenced Andvik to four years on the first arson count and five years and nine months on the second count, prison terms that will be served at the same time.

With credit for good time in custody, Andvik could be out after three years and 10 months and serve one year and 11 months on supervised release.

On the third count, the 34-year-old was sentenced to another four-year prison term, which was suspended for the duration of up to 20 years of supervised probation.

She was also ordered to pay her insurance company $13,930 in restitution.

The 69-month sentence was at the top end of the sentencing range under Minnesota guidelines, said prosecutor Heidi Davies, chief assistant Clay County attorney.

Davies said in court that Andvik’s crimes involved a “high degree of planning and manipulation” and had a significant impact on her family.

“Her husband and children are going to suffer for a long time because of what she did,” Davies said.

Andvik’s parents and her husband, Matt Andvik, sat directly behind her in the courtroom and left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

In a victim impact statement read aloud by Davies, Matt Andvik wrote that he believes mental health issues were factors in his wife’s decision-making. He requested she be granted supervised visitation with their children after she completes treatment.

Andvik repeatedly shook her head in disagreement as Davies also read from a letter from Keith Beam, the hunting TV show producer Andvik tried to frame for the fires because, Davies said, she was upset with how he ended their affair.

Beam’s letter was in response to a letter Andvik had sent him from jail two days after her conviction.

“You ruined my career, my trust in the industry, and robbed me of a ton of money,” Beam stated in the letter, adding, “No one was out for revenge but you.”

Defense attorney Steven Mottinger said he and Andvik’s other attorney went out of their way to convince her to accept responsibility and had significant discussions about settling the case before trial, but she would not admit wrongdoing.

“To that extent, I think we’re making progress,” he said before her statement.

Mottinger recommended a sentence that would have seen Andvik serving two years and eight months in prison followed by a lengthy probation. He highlighted her clean criminal record but said a psychological evaluation showed that “Tara has some problems” that will require treatment.

Mottinger said the fires were an attempt by Andvik to gain attention, and he doesn’t believe she intended for the barn and house to burn to the ground.

Andvik began to cry when Mottinger said she will have “a lot of explaining to do” to her children as they get older.

Andvik tearfully apologized to the authorities and firefighters involved in the case and said the public humiliation that resulted from media reports greatly affected her family.

“I have shattered our lives,” she said.

Kirk told Andvik she has an opportunity to address her demons at the women’s prison in Shakopee.

“I do hope you can work through these issues, Tara,” he said.