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MINNESOTA NEWS ROUNDUP: Opening arguments today in Willmar Grandmother Murder Trial

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Pierce County Herald
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WILLMAR, Minn. -- Jury selection finished yesterday afternoon and opening arguments are this morning (Fri) in the Willmar murder trial of 19-year-old Brok Junkermeier. He's charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder in the July 2013 stabbing and strangulation death of 79-year-old Lila Warwick in her Willmar home. Junkermeier's trial is scheduled to go through April 11th.

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Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin on her Facebook page has endorsed Republican state Senator Julianne Ortman in her bid for U-S Senate. Palin calls Ortman a conservative champion and a fighter for life and for Second Amendment rights. Referring to incumbent Democrat Al Franken, Palin says this fall's race will be "a clown versus a Mama Grizzly, an Obama 100 percenter versus a Blue Star mom." Jim Abeler, Chris Dahlberg, Mike McFadden, Monti Moreno and Harold Shudlick are also vying for the Republican endorsement to run against Franken.

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Lower prices and yields plus higher costs contributed to a 75-percent decline in Minnesota farmers' income in 2013. An annual report from the University of Minnesota and the state college and university system shows median net farm income fell from 189-thousand dollars in 2012 to 42-thousand last year. U of M Extension economist Dale Nordquist says the big driver is crop prices -- in particular, corn going down from over six dollars a bushel to near four dollars. Nordquist says sugar beet prices fell even further and producers lost an average of 300 dollars an acre in 2013. But he says most farmers are in a good position to withstand a down year after near-record profits in 2012.

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Five Republican candidates for governor are all accusing Democratic Governor Mark Dayton of lack of leadership on medical marijuana. Hennepin County Commissioner and former State Representative Jeff Johnson says it's typical of Dayton -- to start out saying "no", then saying maybe we should do it, and then suggesting a study. Johnson calls Dayton's comment about being able to get marijuana on the street "just kinda sad and pathetic." State Representative Kurt Zellers accused Dayton of thumbing his nose at law enforcement and says advocating to parents to break the law by buying marijuana on the street is a "character flaw." And gubernatorial hopeful Scott Honour called Dayton's stance on medical marijuana another in a long list of do-overs. Dayton was not immediately available for comment.

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Nine members of the Minnesota National Guard's Detachment 39 Operational Support Airlift return home today after a nine-month deployment to Kuwait (Fri2pm). The pilots and aviation specialists flew 424 missions, logged 18-hundred-44 hours of flight, hauled more than 16-hundred passengers and 79-thousand pounds of cargo. The unit supported U-S and coalition forces throughout southwest Asia including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Oman, Saudia Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

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The pressure is on administrators at the University of Minnesota from students and faculty members to cancel an upcoming speech by Condoleezza Rice. The former U.S. Secretary of State is scheduled to speak on campus on April 17th as part of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs lecture series. Rice is expected to speak about civil rights. The University Senate is expected to vote next week to urge the university to pull the invitation due to the role they say Rice played quote, "mislead the American people" into the war in Iraq.

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If you're traveling Interstate-94 next week, you may see a helicopter hovering low as crews work to string power lines over the interstate in the Alexandria area. It's part of the CapX2020 transmission line project. Lanes closures are possible, and the Minnesota State Patrol may briefly stop traffic on Tuesday and Wednesday. Crews will work their way to the Barnesville area this summer and fall. Work will wrap up on the transmission line this summer between Alexandria and St. Cloud. The final segment, which will stretch to Fargo, is set for completion in mid- 2015.

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Anne Blackhurst, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Minnesota State University Moorhead, is one of three semi-finalists for MSUM president. The other candidates are Sam Minner, provost and vice president at Radford University in Virginia and Carlos Vargas-Aburto, provost and vice president at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. They will be on campus next week for a series of forums. The new president will be selected by the MNSCU board of trustees April 23. Edna Szymanski retires at the end of June.

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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is set to unveil new ideas for redevelopment of the city's downtown this morning.(10:30) Coleman will be joined by Ecolab CEO Doug Baker and Greater MSP CEO Michael Langley as they release ideas for developers to run with. The group is envisioning new hotels, offices, and even a movie theater. They have selected four sites for redevelopment: Seven Corners Gateway, the Macy-Grace-Wabasha Court area, Central Station light-rail stop and Ramsey County Government Center West.

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Warm weather and cabin season may seem like a long way off, but the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is encouraging lake service provider businesses, like dock installers, resort owners, and canoe outfitters to get ready for summer now. The DNR's April Rust says these businesses must attend aquatic invasive species training and get a permit before they can offer their services. She says the main reason these businesses are categorized and required to get a permit and training is because they are working in a lot of different waters of the state and they are working with a lot of different equipment that goes in and out of the water. There are several classes scheduled over the next few weeks. For more information, visit the DNR's website. ( mndnr.gov)

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A roller-coaster weather ride continues across Minnesota. The entire Great lakes region has broken the record for the amount of snow still on the ground in late March, and the ground has been covered for three and a half months -- busting records set in the 60's and 70's. While a warmup is expected this weekend, with Sunday temperatures approaching 60, USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey says this looks like a short term relief, especially in the Great Lakes region. He says longer term forecasts in this area show a return to very cold weather along with some late season snowfall as we move into April. That's especially bad news for Minnesota farmers, who may end the month of March without a single day suitable for working in their fields.

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