A Chisago County man has been acquitted of murder after shooting his unarmed neighbor in a lake access dispute.
Carl P. Anderson, 44, of Lindstrom, faced two second-degree murder charges — and the possibility of more than two decades in prison — in the February 2017 death of his lifelong neighbor, 62-year-old Donn Allan Johnson. Anderson was acquitted Tuesday after a weeklong trial.
“He’s glad it’s over and he’s going to try to move on with his life,” defense attorney Earl Gray said Wednesday.
Chisago County Attorney Janet Reiter said her office is disappointed and believed Anderson had a “duty to retreat” rather than firing on Johnson. “The theme of our case was certainly that Mr. Anderson could have driven away,” she said.
The case wasn’t a whodunit. Anderson called 911 immediately after he shot Johnson and waited for police.
The dispute started when Anderson gave permission that day for several people to fish from his mother’s property.
At a bait shop in Chisago County at noon, Anderson said an employee told him Johnson had called the store to complain about people parking on his land to access the lake. The employee asked Anderson to go tell the people to move their trucks, the criminal complaint said.
When Anderson arrived at the lake, he saw Johnson on an ATV talking with a man near one of the parked trucks. At some point, Anderson told police, Johnson pulled his ATV perpendicular to the driver’s side of his truck and motioned for him to roll down his window.
Johnson appeared upset, according to the complaint. He accused Anderson of stealing a ladder “and made a threatening statement.”
When Johnson got off his ATV and walked toward Anderson’s truck, Anderson shot him.
The verdict hinged on Anderson’s actions in the few seconds after Johnson got off his ATV and moved toward his neighbor, threatening to kill him, according to the defense. Anderson, who was behind the wheel of his idling pickup truck, said he grabbed his (legally owned) pistol and told Johnson twice to stop but the neighbor kept coming at him.
In the defense’s account, when Johnson didn’t stop, Anderson fired a single shot into his neighbor’s chest and called emergency responders to Lindo Trail, just off Sunrise Lake in North Chisago Lake Township. When they arrived, Johnson’s body was in the road.
While prosecutors said Anderson should have driven away, Gray said his client didn’t have time as Johnson charged at him. Had Anderson waited until his neighbor came closer, Johnson could have grabbed the 9-millimeter pistol and turned it on Anderson, Gray said.
The defense brought in use-of-force experts to testify and re-create the crime scene. Gray said it was a tough case. “The jury had to understand that in that one-second period, the guy doesn’t care if you have a gun” because he kept charging at Anderson, the lawyer said.
At trial, Reiter said prosecutors David Hemming and Jacob Fischmann countered that deadly force was not justified. “Anderson was in his pickup with the engine running,” Reiter said, but “rather than driving off, he took the action of shooting Mr. Johnson.”
Gray said Anderson’s life was at stake. “He’s 44 with a family, he doesn’t want to go to prison for 25 years.”
The jury got the case around 11 a.m. Tuesday and returned with not guilty verdicts about 4 p.m., he said. Gray is a St. Paul defense attorney who won an acquittal last June for Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in 2016. He was assisted in this case by attorney Eric Nelson.
Although prosecutors disagreed with the outcome, Reiter said her office respects the work and the decision of the jury.
Meanwhile, the Johnsons and the Andersons remain on adjacent lakefront land. “Both families still live in the same spots,” Gray said.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson