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Accused Lake Hattie murderer appears in court; questions remain about the crime

PARK RAPIDS — Fredrick Bachman, the man accused of killing his roommate in their Lake Hattie Township home May 31, appeared in court Tuesday, but a litany of questions remain about the incident in which police say Bachman shot and killed James Schwartzbauer with the dead man’s gun.

Bachman, 26, is scheduled to appear Aug. 2 in Hubbard District Court. That day, police may be called to testify, and prosecutors and Bachman’s defense attorney, Tracy Eichorn-Hicks, will discuss evidentiary issues. Eichorn-Hicks is a private criminal defense attorney based in Minneapolis, hired by Bachman, who remains in jail on $1 million bail.

In the criminal complaint laying out Hubbard County Attorney Donovan Dearstyne’s case against Bachman, the Laporte man is said to have lived with Scwartzbauer for four years. But the details of a 2001 criminal sexual conduct case against Schwartzbauer, the relationship between he and Bachman and the cause of the fire that destroyed their home remains unclear.

Bachman was calm when police and fire personnel arrived on scene in the early morning hours of May 31, where Schwartzbauer’s home lay in fiery ruin. The badly burned body of Schwartzbauer, 57, was found among the ashes, with pellets from a shotgun shell near his head, police said. An autopsy revealed the same pellets in Schwartzbauer’s body tissue, and Bachman was named as the only suspect. He was taken into custody last week in St. Paul, according to police, after nearly a month as a free man.

Jen Longaeker, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota State Fire Marshal’s Office, said their investigation is “open and ongoing,” but all information regarding the blaze would have to come from Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes.

On Wednesday, Aukes said he would not release any details on the fire. Bachman, whose criminal history includes two convictions for domestic assault, had been charged only with second-degree murder.

Former Hubbard County Attorney Greg Larson, now a county commissioner, told Forum News Service on Tuesday that Schwartzbauer was a licensed foster parent who moved to the area in 1999, and was acquitted in 2001 of one count each of second- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

The criminal complaint against Bachman filed Friday by the Hubbard County Attorney’s Office, cites Bachman as telling “the Fire Marshal” that Bachman’s brother was not one of three teenage boys, then living with Schwartzbauer as foster children, who accused him of sexual abuse in 2001.

“Bachman’s brother, who was a juvenile in 2001, was allegedly abused by the decedent in 2001 when Bachman’s brother was placed with the decedent as a foster child,” the complaint stated.

The three boys who accused Schwartzbauer of molesting them changed their stories multiple times, Larson said. He added that the accusers were “troubled teens” who’d been in and out of foster homes. Two Ramsey County social workers testified on Schwartzbauer’s behalf that the accusers, who alleged inappropriate touching, kissing and other activities, had credibility problems and had been moved numerous times. Larson speculated the boys had changed their stories because they liked living with Schwartzbauer and didn’t want to be moved to another foster home.

According to Forum News Service accounts of the trial, Schwartzbauer testified that he was “asexual” and was not gay or straight. He was acquitted of all the charges following a weeklong trial.

The details of those charges, however, remain sealed, thanks to an order of expungement sought for by Schwartzbauer following his acquittal, and granted by a Hubbard District Judge.

Information regarding the expungement — when the order was approved, and which judge was responsible for granting it — was not immediately available, assistant county attorney Erika Randall said Wednesday.

Seeking an order of expungement is a lengthy process that makes court records unavailable to the public. But investigative reports, compiled by police and used by prosecutors to make their case and file formal charges, are not necessarily included in orders of expungement. Numerous requests have been made by reporters at The Pioneer and The Enterprise for the reports, but they have yet to be released.

Aukes said Wednesday that approval for release of those reports would have to come from the county attorney’s office. Dearstyne did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday. 

Sarah Smith of The Park Rapids Enterprise contributed to this report.

Justin Glawe
Reporting on crime, courts and Beltrami county government. Follow me on Twitter @JustinGlawe.
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