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Published January 18 2013

Andvik arson appeal points finger at spouse

MOORHEAD – A woman convicted of setting multiple fires at her rural Barnesville farmstead has pointed the finger at her husband in her appeal, suggesting he had motive to burn their home to get revenge on her.

Tara Andvik, 34, is serving a nine-year, five-month prison sentence after a jury found her guilty of three counts of first-degree arson on May 15 in Clay County District Court.

The prosecution alleged that Andvik set the fires in October 2011 to frame her ex-lover, Keith Beam, because she didn’t like how he ended their affair.

In a 22-page brief filed last week with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, Andvik’s attorney argues that the prosecution’s theory isn’t rational because burning her own home and property wouldn’t harm or otherwise affect Beam.

“Contrarily, Mr. Andvik would have a motive to burn the home to get revenge on Ms. Andvik for having an affair and seeking a divorce,” the brief states, referring to her husband, Matt Andvik. “Mr. Andvik had the equal opportunity to ignite these fires.”

In a phone interview Friday, Matt Andvik denied setting the fires, saying, “There’s no real motive for me to do it.”

Two of the fires destroyed the couple’s barn and the farmhouse where they lived with their two children. Matt Andvik testified at trial that the couple moved in 2007 into the house that sat on property homesteaded by his ancestors in 1889.

“It makes no sense to get revenge, to burn the house down that I wanted to live in my entire life,” he said Friday.

Matt Andvik said he was surprised, “but not completely surprised,” by the appellant brief, noting the fires his wife has accepted responsibility for took place when he wasn’t around the farmstead.

Tara Andvik denied responsibility for the fires until her sentencing on June 28, when she said, “I didn’t intend for things to go this far,” and “I don’t understand why I did it.”

She’s asking the Court of Appeals to reverse the convictions on the grounds of insufficient evidence, or to find that she had ineffective counsel and grant her a new trial.

Andvik, a bowhunter, contends it would have been reasonable for her trial counsel to present an “alternative perpetrator” defense. In addition to her husband, the brief refers to a “troublesome, arsonist neighbor” and online threats by animal rights activists to burn down the Andvik home.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528