After three days of wading through a pool of potential Blue Earth County jurors, a Morton teen ended his murder trial before it began by entering a guilty plea Friday.

Security has been higher than usual at the Blue Earth County Courthouse this week for 18-year-old Willis Alvin Swenson’s trial, which was moved to Mankato from Redwood County. Swenson was facing three counts of first-degree murder for the stabbing of Robert Frederick Berry, 50. He pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting second-degree murder, which calls for a 25-year prison sentence according to sentencing guidelines, court records said.

Berry’s body was pulled out of the Minnesota River on Sept. 25, 2004. Swenson testified Friday he and four other people murdered Berry during the early morning hours of Sept. 24, 2004.

Before his plea was accepted by Redwood County District Court Judge David W. Peterson, Swenson admitted to helping load Berry into the back of Berry’s own vehicle during a gathering in Morton, driving him across the Minnesota River, taking him out of the car and carrying him down to the river bank.

Berry was beaten unconscious during the party in Morton, which is in Renville County, then wrapped in a blanket before being driven across the river to Redwood County, said David Voigt, assistant Minnesota attorney general. Two of the four other suspects have been found guilty during court trials in Willmar and St. Peter. Two more suspects are awaiting trial.

Extra security has been requested for all of the trials because of the seriousness of the charges and the attention the case has drawn, said Redwood County Sheriff Rick Morris. He met with Blue Earth County Sheriff Brad Peterson and other court officials Monday to make security plans for the trial, which was expected to last at least through next week.

In addition to the deputies sent to Mankato from Redwood Falls, Blue Earth County was providing two off-duty deputies to guard the jury and the courtroom. A metal detector also was set up outside the main courtroom to screen people as they entered.

Jury selection was scheduled to finish Friday, meaning the trial would have started Monday if a plea agreement hadn’t been reached. Security would have been lowered once the trial started, Peterson said.

All of the extra cost will be paid by Redwood County, he added.

“When it’s all done, we’ll tally up our hours and send them a bill for the overtime,” Peterson said.

After accepting the plea, Judge David Peterson spoke to family members of the victim who attended the hearing. Some of them had protested the plea agreement, saying they wanted Swenson, who was 17 when he participated in the murder, to be tried for the first-degree charges. If convicted, he would have faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

Peterson told the family he has been handling the case since it was opened months ago and has analyzed the evidence.

“I am able to conclude in fairness and justice that this defendant had a necessary but secondary role in this murder,” he said.

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