Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Media still searching for Michael Swanson's motivation

Day Two brings little new information on Michael Swanson, the 17-year-old charged in two cold-blooded killing in Iowa. Several local newsrooms (TV in particular ... it is a shocking multiple homicide after all) sought out criminologists and psychologists for theories on the kid’s motivation. Reports Jennifer Copeland for KSTP: “ ‘I think you have someone who is clearly mentally ill,’ Criminal Defense Attorney Rachel Goldberger said. Goldberger thinks Swanson's attorney may try to prove his client isn't fit to stand trial. ‘You don't see that very often and when you do, it generally means that he's mentally ill,’ Goldberger said. She also expects the details of what happened to get worse as the crimes play out in court. ‘I just think as far as the facts, there could be other things that he's done that now will be uncovered,’ Goldberger said. ‘We don't really know the extent of the path of destruction that he left.’ "


Trisha Volpe over at KARE goes to a retired FBI profiler, who says: “What I found with some of the younger offenders that I talk to is that they just don't look beyond the immediate situation. I remember one young kid who stabbed his brother and the brother was teasing him. He said I don't want to take this anymore and boom, he stabbed him. He stabbed him right in the heart and killed him," says [Larry] Brubaker. But the motivation that allegedly drove Swanson could have been more sinister. ‘Is he evil? You have to look at it that way. He, after killing the first person and getting money and cigarettes and then he goes and does it again, is he trying to prove a point to somebody that hey, I'm bad? I don't know.’ "

Fox9’s Tom Lyden touches on a provocative issue, namely, Swanson’s access to a lot of firearms. Lyden notes, as others have, that Swanson drove four hours north to the family’s cabin where he grabbed a rifle. But Lyden also says the kid’s father has said he didn’t know how many other guns were in the cabin. The two Iowa women were killed with a revolver.

In what rates as a surprise to absolutely no one, the state GOP is asking for the courts to step into the gubernatorial recount process. Tom Scheck over at MPR writes: “The process in question is known as reconciliation. Each election judge is required to review the list of people who voted in each precinct and reconcile it with the number of ballots that were cast on Election Night. State law requires the review to be done, but Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton said party lawyers believe the review didn't occur in each precinct across the state.” He continues, saying, (reiterating, actually): “If the recount and impending legal proceedings drag on into 2011, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican, would keep the governor's seat — and for the first time, could pass laws drafted by a GOP-controlled Legislature. The latest effort may also be a signal that the Republican Party and the Emmer campaign need to either increase or shrink the pool of votes in order for Emmer to win. Many outside observers in both political parties say it's nearly impossible for Emmer to pick up enough votes in a hand recount to win the election.”  That isn’t hard to “say,” is it?                                                           
The blustery talk about ending congressional earmarks gets a closer look from MPR’s Mark Zedechlik, who walks his readers through the obvious, namely that most of the money goes for infrastructure projects, and not some congressman funneling millions to his sister’s Parakeet Museum. Writes Zedechlik: “Like every other state Minnesota has a lot of projects that were funded with earmarks. And, many had bipartisan support from members of Minnesota's Congressional delegation. From roads and bridges, to rail lines and research and even the Minnesota National Guard’s popular ’Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’ soldier reintegration program — Minnesota has benefited from more than $500 million in earmark spending in just the last couple of years.” Adding: “Earmarks brought millions to Minnesota in 2010. For example: DFL Rep. Collin Peterson got more than $7 million for flood control projects in his northwestern Minnesota district; DFL Rep. Jim Oberstar secured $15 million for jet fuel storage in his district at the Duluth airport; and Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen brought home more than $1.5 million for road projects in his suburban district.” Well, let’s put an end to that kind of corruption.

It's a classic of its kind. The PiPress editorializes (I guess that’s what you call it) this morning on the new legislative leadership. Cutting to the bottom line: They’re all good and smart and brush their teeth regularly and we just know, golly, that they’ll do their best for us. Says the piece: “For the first time, Minnesota has women as Senate Majority Leader (Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo) and Senate President (Sen. Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville). Senate and House Republican leaders have reduced the numbers of committees and tried to pair them in two-house harmony. They say this will make the bill-passing path clearer, allow bills to match up better for end-of-session negotiations — and save money. Koch said the changes ‘will restore simplicity and transparency to the committee process.' Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, who will become the new House Speaker when the gavel falls on Jan. 4, said the changes are the first step toward ‘a smaller and leaner government.’ Koch, Zellers and Fischbach are among the leaders the changeover will award with new powers and responsibilities. Governing is more difficult than being in the minority, particularly if the recount in the governor's race upholds the margin now held by DFLer Mark Dayton. Minnesotans will see fresh faces in important positions. Policy and personality walk arm-in-arm in politics, and both have changed.” I had no idea. But maybe next time just a personal note to each of them, on lavender-scented notepaper.

By contrast, the Power Line boys always have an actual point of view, like how, for example, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner ought to be ashamed of herself allowing someone like Koua Fong Lee (of the notorious fatal Toyota crash) back on the streets. Writes Scott Johnson, “In response to my question asking why she threw in the towel on the case, Gaertner cited the difficulty of getting a jury that could fairly adjudicate the case as well as the loss of collective community support for additional punishment of Lee. I came away from Gaertner's presentation thinking that she may be the most thin-skinned and pathetic elected public official I've ever personally encountered.” Johnson cites a New York Post column for all the forensics anyone needs on this case. That’d be funky enough, but the story is actually from a right-wing blogger in something called the Canada Free Press.

You know, some of you have really overdone it with this Denny Hecker obsession. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. And you know who you are. But ... come on! Did Denny really try to sneak in a jailhouse wedding to girlfriend Christi Rowan? His attorneys say that’s all silly talk. But Dee DePass writes in her Strib story: “The visit was originally set up so Hecker could review numerous accounting documents with his attorney. Instead, Hecker allegedly arrived and asked for a Bible, according to a letter prosecutor Nicole Engisch filed with Chief Judge Michael Davis. Soon after U.S. marshals denied Hecker the Bible, Christi Rowan, a pastor and Rowan's civil attorney arrived at the office ‘for the purposes of participating in a wedding ceremony between Mr. Hecker and Ms. Rowan,’ Engisch wrote.” Love, true and otherwise, is often a strange thing, but why do we suspect Denny had a legal/financial motive?

Over at the PiPress, John Welbes and MaryJo Webster write: “The Sherburne County Jail doesn't permit weddings for prisoners, Engisch wrote, and the U.S. Marshals only allow a wedding to take place with a court order. Engisch said that the U.S. Attorney's office will no longer make a room available for Hecker to meet with his attorneys. ‘That Mr. Hecker would once again take a privilege and abuse it further demonstrates why the government will continue to oppose any motion to release,’ she wrote. On Tuesday, Hecker and Rowan were also at the U.S. Attorney's office, and both were working on the required documentation, but were always in different rooms, said Barbara May, another attorney representing Hecker in his bankruptcy case. On Tuesday, Rowan also brought a pastor with her, but ‘it was my understanding that it was for moral support,’ May said. ‘I don't know how this turned into a marriage ceremony.' " Uh, “moral support,” you say?

Why does this stuff always happen in Wisconsin? I mean there was that three scorned gals' revenge thing, and now, says an AP story: “A former deputy U.S. marshal has been sentenced to eight years in prison for taking kinky nude photos of sex partners without their knowledge.” It gets better when, “The judge told [49 year-old Timothy] Moseley he wasn't being punished for engaging in sexual bondage, nor for being what he called an ‘egocentric toad,’ but for crossing the line of taking photos of women while they were incapacitated with drugs or alcohol.”

And how about this guy in Kenosha? Says the AP: “According to a criminal complaint, the 54-year-old arranged mannequins in a sex act and plastered every flat surface with pictures. The complaint said he also had a poster of actresses Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen with a caption inviting himself to join in sex acts with them.”

Oh heck, here’s one more. Also from the AP,A rural Wisconsin man blasted his television set with a shotgun after watching Bristol Palin's ‘Dancing with the Stars’ routine Monday night, saying he was fed up with politics and Palin wasn't a very good dancer, according to court documents.” It continues, saying: “Janice Cowan told police her husband came home around 6:30 p.m. Monday after drinking at a bar, but that she didn't know if he was drunk, a sheriff's detective wrote in a criminal complaint. She said her husband drank a bottle of beer during dinner and they settled down to watch ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ When Palin, the daughter of former vice presidential candidate-turned-GOP celebrity Sarah Palin, began her routine, Cowan jumped up and began swearing, saying something like ‘The (expletive) politics.’ His wife said he was upset that a political figure's daughter was dancing on TV even though he felt she didn't have talent. She told officers her husband left the living room and reappeared 20 minutes later with his shotgun, ‘raging’ with his face bright red, and blasted the TV.” Oh sure, and tell me its just a “coincidence” that all those Packers fans are coming to town this weekend.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Comments (2)

Scott Johnson's piece on Koua Fong Lee is a bit more than I can take.

The fact is that Mr. Lee's conviction was overturned on two grounds, new evidence and poor representation at trial. While the latter is no barrier to a second prosecution, the points missed by his defense counsel the first time around are, particularly when combined with the arguments regarding sudden acceleration.

One of the points that would have been made in a second trial is that, contrary to the testimony of a prosecution witness, the Camry did have an anti-lock braking system. A key point in the prosecution's case was that there were no skid marks, which one would expect to see if the brakes had been applied as Mr. Lee testified. With properly functioning ABS, however, there are no skid marks.

Defense counsel also essentially admitted, without his client's consent and in direct contradiction to Mr. Lee's testimony, that Mr. Lee must have mistakenly stepped on the gas rather than the brake. Again, this concession would not have been made in a second trial.

Under these circumstances, Ms. Gaertner's decision not to go to trial again was well within reason, whether or not Mr. Johnson or another attorney would have made the same call.

If Ms. Gaertner is to be criticized for anything, in my opinion, it is for her last minute attempt to force a settlement under which Mr. Lee would have acknowledged guilt, foregone any claims for wrongful prosecution, and avoided any further jail time. Given the facts presented in his motion for a new trial, a just outcome was fairly clear by the time she made that offer. Her job was to seek justice, not simply a conviction. She came close to overstepping her ethical boundaries in pursuing such an agreement when she did, if in fact she did not cross that line.

Not being a big earmark fan I noticed that you accounted for almost 24 million of the 500 million that Minneota got in the last few years. The examples used obviously should be worthy items that we all can rave about and agree that are good things (jet fuel storage?), but I'm curious about some of the others, like about 475 million dollars worth. If the three items listed are the best of the best, what on earth is the rest of the country paying for?

Speaking of Mr. Oberstar. With all the lamenting about the losses Minneota will suffer as a result of his no longer being in Congress, does anyone else worry that one person out of 400 plus representatives should have had so much influence? Wouldn't we all like to think that our Representative was considered the equal of all the others?