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Woman expected to testify at conspiracy trial

The murder conspiracy trial of a a rural Olmsted County woman could be in the hands of a jury Friday.

But before that happens, jurors are expected to hear from the defendant, Brenda Shorter, according to the opening statement given by her attorney, Gary Gittus.

Shorter, 37, is charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder with premeditation, attempted first-degree murder and second-degree assault. Authorities allege she conspired with her ex-husband, William, to kill his brother, John, in order to cash in on a life insurance policy and save the family farm, which was operating under crushing debt.

Prosecutor Eric Woodford told jurors in his opening statement this week that William Shorter's role in the conspiracy was to obtain a life insurance policy in his brother's name, with him as beneficiary. Brenda's role was to kill John Shorter.

Jurors have heard from John Shorter, who told how he was attacked by Brenda with a hatchet while they were milking cows on April 24, 2008. He said she also tried to strangle him with a lariat when he grabbed the hatchet out of her hand. He said he punched her in the face in self defense and fled to the home of some friends.


On Wednesday, lengthy testimony came from sheriff's investigators Brad Nelson and Mike Ranfranz. Jurors saw photos of John Shorter's injuries and of the milking parlor where the alleged assault occurred. 

The prosecution could wrap up its case today.  

Gittus told jurors in his opening statement that Shorter will testify and talk of her love of the cows and her claims that John Shorter abused the animals. Gittus said he will also call several character witnesses on behalf of his client.

This is the second trial in Olmsted County involving this case. Last summer, another jury convicted William Shorter of conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison and must serve 10 years before he's eligible for release.

The family farm near Dover is no longer owned by the family.

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