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Party bus riders testify in Lovelien murder trial

The cowboy had his say Wednesday.

Bryce Larson, who was wearing a big hat and tight jeans the night Joel Lovelien was beaten to death, told jurors he and his friends did not assault the 38-year-old father, challenging the version of events Travis Stay's attorneys have presented throughout the trial.

Larson, a 24-year-old farmer from East Grand Forks, rode the same party bus that brought Stay and other early Halloween revelers to the Broken Drum bar in Grand Forks on the night of Oct. 27, 2007.

Coming out of the bar, Larson testified, he saw a scuffle between his acquaintance James Wavra, who was dressed as a hunter in blaze orange, and a man in yellow, who he didn't know but later learned was Stay.

After the fight broke up, Larson said, he told Stay he couldn't get back on the bus. Later, he said, he and two friends went over to Stay, who was in the parking lot with a man in a green. (Lovelien was wearing a green UND hockey jersey the night he was killed.)

Larson testified that he told the man in the green, "He's your problem now," referring to the injured Stay.

No blood on bus

After that encounter, Larson and his two friends got back on the bus, which then drove away, leaving Stay.

Larson said that on the bus, as it left the Broken Drum, he saw no one, including himself, who had blood on them or looked like they'd been in a fight.

"Do you have any reason why you would have killed him that night?" prosecutor Nancy Yon asked, referring to Lovelien.

"No," he replied.

"Mr. Larson did you ever witness the murder of Joel Lovelien?" Yon later asked.

"No."

"Did you ever see him assaulted in the Broken Drum parking lot?"

"No."

"When you left that parking lot, where was he?"

"Talking to the guy in the yellow."

Yon then sealed her direct examination: "Do you have a conspiracy with your friends to keep information from the court as to what happened to Mr. Lovelien?"

"No."

"No further questions."

Uncooperative

Defense attorney Joe Friedberg worked to paint a picture of Larson as uncooperative and confrontational with officers when they came for him the night Lovelien was killed.

Friedberg, referring to police reports, said Larson told an officer to "f--- off" -- a statement Larson said he doesn't recall making.

Larson did acknowledge he lied to police that night, when he told them he hadn't seen the fight between Wavra and Stay.

Friedberg, citing a detective's report, said Larson wanted to know if the victim was wearing a green shirt. "He says you were repeatedly asking what the victim was wearing," Friedberg said. "But you're specifically saying, 'Did the victim have a UND shirt on?'"

Larson said he was asking questions to find out if the victim police were talking about was wearing yellow or green.

According to Friedberg, the detective's report said Larson "did see a large guy wearing a UND Fighting Sioux jersey in the parking lot, this guy had blood on his face. He denied the subject had significant injuries."

"Did you say that?" Friedberg asked.

"No, I never said that," Larson said.

Others testify

Mitchell Dahlen, 24, East Grand Forks, told jurors he didn't see the altercation between Wavra and Stay, who Dahlen didn't know. But after hearing about the fight, Dahlen said, he and Larson, along with another friend, approached the man wearing the UND jersey and Stay, whose face was bloodied.

He said they "were going to give him (Stay) some grief" and see if he was OK. When they went over, he said, the man in the UND jersey told them the defendant was alright.

Dahlen, a Gophers hockey fan, testified that the conversation wasn't heated and that he chatted with the man in the UND jersey about the rivalry between the teams.

"We were laughing about it, just saying, can't wait till they play next," he said.

After that, Dahlen said, the three got back on the bus.

The defense has implicated Dahlen as a member of the group that killed Lovelien. But when asked by Yon, he said he did not assault the man in the UND jersey and did not see him get beat up.

Dahlen and the other bus riders who testified Wednesday -- James Wavra and Anna Barrett -- told jurors they did not see anyone with blood on them, or anyone who looked like they'd been in a fight, leave on the bus from the Broken Drum.

The scuffle

Wavra, who has not been implicated by the defense as one of the men who killed Lovelien, said a man came at him on an angle as he and Barrett were walking arm-and-arm from the Broken Drum, through the parking lot, to the bus.

The man, who he didn't know, grabbed him by the collar and pulled him to the ground, Wavra said. "He was squeezing like he wanted to hurt me, like he wanted to kill me," he said.

Wavra, 23, East Grand Forks, said the man swung at him but didn't connect. He said he landed a punch on the man's face.

Wavra recalled hitting the man a total of one or two times and kicking him in the shoulder or the side of face.

Barrett, 24, told jurors the man was wearing a yellow-hooded sweatshirt and was swaying as he walked toward her and Wavra.

On cross-examination, Friedberg asked Wavra: "You didn't have any trouble handling this guy, did you?"

"I'm a hockey player."

"I understand," the attorney said, "but you still didn't have any trouble handling him."

"Got lucky."

Lab evidence

Hope Olson, director of the North Dakota Crime Laboratory, testified that her lab found blood from Lovelien and the defendant on the sweatshirt and pants Stay wore on the night in question.

Lovelien's blood was found on Stay's lion costume as well, and the defendant's own blood was found on a shoe he was wearing that night, she said.

Olson said there was no indication of an unknown third person's blood on any of the samples analyzed.

She testified that Stay's blood was not present on any of the samples from Lovelien's jersey or a green shirt that were tested.

The defense is set to continue its cross-examination of Larson at 8:30 a.m. today. The trial, which began Dec. 2, is scheduled to go until Dec. 19.

Ingersoll reports on crime and courts. Reach him at (701) 780-1269; (800) 477-6572, ext. 269; or send e-mail to aingersoll@gfherald.com.

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