Andvik found guilty of arsonTara Andvik quietly sobbed as guilty verdicts on three felony counts of arson were read by a Clay County jury Tuesday. Her husband, Matt Andvik, also welled up, sitting directly behind her when the verdict was read about 9:30 p.m.
By: By Mike Nowatzki and Wendy Reuer, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
MOORHEAD, Minn. — Tara Andvik quietly sobbed as guilty verdicts on three felony counts of arson were read by a Clay County jury Tuesday.
Her husband, Matt Andvik, also welled up, sitting directly behind her when the verdict was read about 9:30 p.m.
The jury reached its decision after about four hours of deliberation.
Andvik, dressed in a bright pink sweater, was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs after Judge Michael Kirk ordered her bail revoked and that she be placed in the custody of the Clay County Jail.
A sentencing hearing will be held June 28.
Prosecutor Heidi Davies requested a mental health evaluation of Andvik, which was granted as part of a presentencing investigation.
Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Steven Mottinger said Andvik was disappointed with the verdict.
“This is a tough day for everybody involved. Her family has stood behind her. I don’t know at this point there is any reason to expect any change in that regard,” he said.
Mottinger did not fight the mental health evaluation, saying there were indications from some of the witnesses “that there may be some issues there.”
Jury foreman Paul Sando declined to comment on the specifics of the jury’s deliberations but said reaching the verdicts was “emotionally draining.”
“It certainly was a difficult decision,” he said.
Mottinger said it was too early to say if his client would appeal the verdicts.
In his closing arguments, Mottinger said the letters Andvik sent to herself and others from a supposed hit man hired to kill her posed “a big problem for us.”
“We’re not going to deny it,” Mottinger told the jury of eight women and four men before they began deliberating just after 5 p.m. “We certainly wish we didn’t have to deal with them.”
But he did offer an explanation for the letters sent last month: They weren’t a last-ditch effort to steer blame for the six fires at Andvik’s rural Barnesville farmstead toward her ex-lover, Keith Beam, but rather the desperate action of someone who had been “hounded” as the only possible suspect in the fires since the farm’s barn mysteriously burned Oct. 12.
“Isn’t it just as reasonable that she gets close to trial, gets scared and decides, ‘I’ve got to do something to help myself out?’” Mottinger said.
Davies questioned why, if Beam or someone else had hired a hit man to kill Andvik, the hit man would have set grass fires on the farmstead and torched the barn before setting the final Oct. 19 deck fire that severely damaged the house.
“That hit man story does not hold water, but it’s one that she revisited time and time again with the investigators,” said Davies, an assistant Clay County attorney.
Deputy State Fire Marshal Andrea Wenzlaff said there was a common thread in the six fires at the farmstead.
Andvik was the only person in the vicinity when all six fires were reported, and they all appeared to be designed to be easy to control and do minimal damage, with the exception of the Oct. 12 barn fire.
The final deck fire that spread to the house originated in a plastic, igloo-style doghouse that burned fast and hot, which someone inexperienced with fires might not expect, Wenzlaff said.
Davies suggested Tara Andvik lit the fire but didn’t mean to set the house ablaze, citing her 911 call in which she started out speaking fairly calmly but then cried, “No, no, no!”
Tara Andvik was the only one home when that fire broke out, but her husband and two young children also were home when the Oct. 12 deck fire occurred.
“Who would start a fire with their kids in the house? It doesn’t make any sense,” Mottinger said.
Mike Nowatzki and Wendy Reuer are reporters at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum