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Defense refutes claims of conspiracy

A conspiracy and murder attempt?

Not so, claims the attorney for Brenda Kay Shorter, 37, accused of trying to kill her former brother-in-law with a hatchet at the family's rural Dover farm in the spring of 2008.

Gary Gittus told an Olmsted County jury Monday that the story laid out by prosecutor Eric Woodford sounds like fiction.

Authorities allege that Shorter and her ex-husband, William, devised a scheme to save the family farm, which was under "crushing" debt and facing foreclosure. The plan was to take out a life insurance policy on William's brother, John, with William as the beneficiary. William would take out the policy, and Brenda would kill John, jurors were told.

"This is a case about a woman and her husband deciding to save the family farm,'' Woodford told jurors. He said their plan was to take out the insurance policy, then kill John.


He said Brenda hit John in the head with a hatchet then put a noose around his neck during an assault in April 2008 while both were milking cows.

Woodford said it wasn't the first attempt on John's life. In the spring of 2006, he said, John also was working with Brenda, and she drove over him while on the tractor, pinning his arm under the tire. That was just after the first life insurance policy had been obtained, Woodford said. The policy lapsed the next month.

Woodford told jurors that they would hear about the financial problems facing the family farm, about how William obtained a life insurance policy in his brother's name without his brother's knowledge, and how Brenda's role was to assault and kill her brother-in-law.

"We have heard quite a story," Gittus told jurors. But, he said, there is no evidence of any conspiracy.

"It just does not exist,'' he said.

As for the assault, Gittus told jurors they will hear from Shorter about her love for the dairy cows, how she viewed them almost the same as her two children.

He said she was upset that John abused the cattle on a daily basis, leading to a fight that April day. Gittus said Brenda hit John to prevent the abuse to the cows.

"Her intent was not to murder,'' he said. "She is not capable of committing murder."


Gittus told jurors that at the time, Brenda and William Shorter had been married six years and together 15 years. But their marriage was over, and they were getting a divorce, he said.

Gittus said the couple lived in separate ends of a mobile home, worked separate schedules on the farm and didn't communicate.

"You won't hear any evidence that she had anything to do with getting the life insurance policy,'' Gittus said. She didn't even know about it, he said.

Brenda Shorter is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon. Her former husband was convicted following a trial last summer. He has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

John Shorter will be a key witness in the trial.

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