Trial begins for Duluth concrete company owner accused of burning client’s duplexThe owner of a Duluth concrete company is accused of threatening to break the legs of a customer who refused to pay and then setting fire to the customer’s duplex.
The owner of a Duluth concrete company is accused of threatening to break the legs of a customer who refused to pay and then setting fire to the customer’s duplex.
Testimony began Tuesday in the first-degree arson trial of Adam Leroy Seavey, 35, owner of Solid Concrete Work. Seavey is accused of setting fire to a duplex owned by Jason Branstrom at 19 E. Eighth St., on Dec. 16.
Branstrom, a human resources manager, testified that he hired Seavey to create a retaining wall for the detached garage in his backyard. However, when the wall was completed the city determined that permits had not been obtained for the work and it was not up to code. He testified that he refused to pay the final bill of about $15,000 and it would have cost about $18,000 to redo.
Branstrom told jurors that after he told Seavey he wasn’t going to pay for the substandard work, Seavey telephoned him and threatened that he had five days to pay or he was going to come to his house and “break your f’in legs.”
The criminal complaint against Seavey alleges that Branstrom and his fiancée began to receive harassing telephone calls and threats from him after refusing to pay. The couple appeared in court attempting to get a restraining order.
Seavey allegedly waited outside the courthouse after the hearing and told the duplex owner that the cameras he put up on his house couldn’t “(expletive deleted) protect him” and that he was going to damage his property.
Branstrom and his fiancée, Katelyn Rizzi, testified that they and their downstairs tenants were victims of several acts of vandalism after refusing to pay Seavey. Branstrom said a decorative landscaping rock was thrown through the windshield of a truck outside his garage. A similar rock was thrown through a picture window in his downstairs rental unit. A few days later, a window in the tenants’ vehicle was broken out. A masonry brick was thrown through a lower bedroom window.
Nearly all of the incidents, including the arson, occurred about 12:30 a.m. The duplex owner installed security surveillance cameras.
Branstrom testified that Seavey told him, “Don’t think for a second those cameras are going to stop me from smashing your stuff.”
The cameras captured a suspect dressed in dark clothing with his face covered, wearing a hood, approaching the wooden front steps of the duplex with a container in his hands on Dec. 16. The suspect sprinkles a fluid over the stairs and then appears to light a fire with a lighter. When flames rose the suspect ran away. Branstrom grabbed some flour and attempted to extinguish the fire. A neighbor responded with a chemical fire extinguisher to put out the flames.
Seavey’s sister, Duluth police Officer Ann Padden, was called to testify by the prosecution. Padden wore civilian clothes on the witness stand and jurors weren’t told that she is a police officer. Padden testified that Seavey’s wife showed her a Walmart receipt from the day before the arson fire that listed a ski mask as being purchased. Padden said that when she learned of the item on the receipt she reported it to police.
In her opening statement, St. Louis County prosecutor Rebekka Stumme told jurors that there were other dark clothing items on that same Walmart receipt.
Stumme said this isn’t a complicated CSI case. “There’s a tiny bit of science, but we’re going to do it the old-fashioned way, what people saw, what people heard,” she told prospective jurors during the jury selection process.
Defense attorney Mikkel Long told jurors in his opening statement that there is no question that someone set fire to the duplex. He called the video “scary and disturbing,” but said he didn’t believe jurors would find that Seavey is the man in the video. He said he didn’t think there would be sufficient evidence to support the claim that his client was so upset about not being paid that he tried to burn the duplex down.
But at least until the defense presents its case, no alternative suspect or suspects for the serial vandalism has been identified.
Testimony continues today before Judge Dale Harris in State District Court. Harris told jurors to pack an overnight bag in the event they begin their deliberations today and have to be sequestered overnight.