The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 1, 2013

Assault charges dismissed after victim's story challenged

By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — About a month after someone came forward to tell investigators they had arrested the wrong guy, assault charges have been dismissed against a St. Peter man who spent 34 days in jail for the incident.

Jacob John Friedrichs, 31, was arrested Feb. 22. A warrant had been issued for his arrest after Gary Stillwell called 911 at about 8:50 p.m. Jan. 8 to report he had been attacked in his house by two men. Stillwell told Blue Earth County sheriff’s deputies he could hear his wife, Ashley Stillwell, outside the house yelling, “not in front of the kids,” while he was being beaten with a bat.

Friedrichs was tied to the incident because the person who hit Stillwell dropped a set of keys in the house. One of the keys was for a Jeep, registered to Friedrichs at the time, that was found a short distance from the house.

Although Friedrichs doesn’t deny going to Stillwell’s house that night, he said he left immediately after a confrontation started between Gary Stillwell and 28-year-old Timothy Garth Hansen Jr. of Mankato.

Friedrichs’ version of the story was supported by Hansen, who called The Free Press from jail on Feb. 27 to describe what he told investigators about the incident.

“I guess I just want the world to know I’m innocent,” Friedrichs said Monday. “I’m not that kind of person. I’m not an assaultive person.”

Hansen said he and Friedrichs were at the house because Ashley Stillwell was moving out and wanted to get some of her property. A mutual friend asked Hansen to stand by while she was there because Gary Stillwell had been aggressive in the past. He also was told Stillwell had a knife collection and possibly a gun, so Hansen said he brought a bat for extra protection.

Hansen also said he was driving the Jeep because he had bought it from Friedrichs and they were in the process of transferring the title.

“I did have a bat up my sleeve but, when I walked in the house, Mr. Stillwell was asleep on the couch,” Hansen said during his February call from jail. “So I put the bat down.”

Ashley Stillwell was grabbing some clothing when her husband woke up. When Gary Stillwell confronted Hansen, Hansen said he didn’t want any trouble. Both Hansen and Friedrichs said Friedrichs left the house at that point and walked away. Friedrichs also said he asked Hansen to bring him home before going to Stillwell’s house.

“I ducked a punch and I still said I was not there to fight,” Hansen said. “Then his dog attacked and he punched me in the head. So I one-twoed him and told Ashley, ‘Grab whatever you have because we’re leaving.’

“Sure enough. I dropped the keys.”

By the time Hansen found another vehicle to drive and caught up with Friedrichs, he was walking across the North Star Bridge toward North Mankato, Hansen said. He picked him up and they went to work in St. Peter.

“I didn’t expect charges to come of it,” Hansen said.

Friedrichs said he has police reports that show both Gary and Ashley Stillwell changed their stories about the incident several times when they were interviewed by investigators.

Hansen gave his description of the incident to investigators in February. Reports from the deputies were turned over to Friedrichs’ attorney, Jeannie Blatz, in early March. On March 7 Blatz demanded a speedy trial. A trial scheduled for Wednesday was canceled after Assistant Blue Earth County Attorney Chris Rovney dismissed the charges.

Rovney’s reason for the dismissal was, “Cannot prove the matter beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Blatz couldn’t be reached for comment Monday, but Scott Cutcher, chief public defender, said it was clear the charges had to be dismissed. The statements from the main witness and the man making the accusations, the Stillwells, were too inconsistent, he said.

Cutcher also said Friedrichs was lucky that Hansen was willing to step forward. If he hadn’t, Friedrichs might still be in jail.

Charges related to the incident have not been filed against Hansen, who has a criminal record and would likely have gone to prison with an assault conviction.

“Not everyone is willing to do that,” Cutcher said.