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Published July 24 2013

Court of Appeals upholds Andvik’s arson conviction

MOORHEAD – The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a woman found guilty of setting multiple fires at her and her husband’s rural Barnesville farmstead in 2011.

Tara Andvik is serving a five-year, nine-month prison sentence after a jury found her guilty of three counts of first-degree arson in May 2012 in Clay County District Court.

Andvik was suspected of setting the fires herself and trying to frame an ex-lover for the fires, which destroyed the farmstead’s house and barn. In her appeal, she challenged whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict and asked for a new trial on the basis that her attorneys were ineffective.

In an unpublished opinion filed Monday, the Court of Appeals affirmed Andvik’s conviction.

“The evidence presented at trial does not support any reasonable theory as to anybody other than appellant setting the fires. We will not reverse a conviction based on mere conjecture,” the opinion stated. “Therefore, we conclude that the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant is guilty of three counts of first-degree arson.”

The court also found that Andvik’s defense counsel effectively represented her during trial.

The opinion recognized that there was no direct evidence to establish that Andvik caused the fires, and that the evidence presented at trial was solely circumstantial.

In addressing the circumstantial evidence, the court noted that there was a never a fire when Andvik wasn’t at or near the fire and that a search of the area after the barn fire didn’t reveal anybody hiding near or running from the area. A perimeter set up by law enforcement during the house fire also didn’t reveal any unusual traffic, and a thermal imaging camera didn’t reveal anyone hiding on or near the property.

Andvik has admitted sending letters to herself and others purporting to be from a hit man hired by her ex-lover, but he and everyone else she implicated had alibis for their whereabouts, the opinion noted.

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

Andvik’s attorney argued in her appeal that the prosecution’s theory wasn’t rational because burning her own home and property wouldn’t harm or otherwise affect her ex-lover. Instead, the appeal appeared to point a finger at Andvik’s husband.

“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 stated.

Andvik’s husband denied having any involvement in the fires.