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Diana Defatte's injuries were apparent when she was taken to a Bemidji emergency room. (Law Enforcement Photo)

Lake George man gets four years in domestic assault case

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Diana Defatte got a life sentence in her own assault Wednesday.

Her ex-husband and abuser will serve four years in prison for the June 2009 brutal attack on his then wife in her Lake George home. She suffered a broken orbital bone and bruises from head to toe. An emergency room doctor had to staple her head back together where it was split open with an axe handle.

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"I got the sentence and I'm going to continue to have the sentence," she said Thursday. "I'll do my best not to let it haunt me the rest of my life but as soon as he's out from behind bars I don't know what's gonna happen. But I will continue to serve his sentence."

A Hubbard County District Court jury convicted John Wesley Defatte Sr., 71, of three of five crimes last fall, including breaking into Diana Defatte's home, assaulting her and violating a protection order that was in place at the time.

The victim said she and her children lived at the mercy of the autocratic head of the household who was in absolute charge. None of the Defatte children testified at trial, although three children attended trial to support their mother.

"On and off it was hell," Diana Defatte said of her 40-year marriage.

"But with me it was a commitment to a marriage. I wanted it to work. And it took that many years to realize it's not going to. Do you want to continue? And I decided no, I'm done."

Defatte himself testified at trial he became unhinged when his ex-wife refused to let him back into her life when he was attempting to reconcile on the day of the assault and break-in.

In asking for a 60-month sentence, Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne said, "The defendant has contempt for the court system and utter contempt for women."

He and defense attorney Jacob Erickson have spent the last month in a legal skirmish over how Defatte should be sentenced.

"We're asking for 48 months and to be done with this matter," Erickson said. "His thoughts on women are a matter of his First Amendment rights."

Judge Robert Tiffany, maintaining he didn't want an appeals court to overturn what could have been a novel sentence, chose a safe middle course in meting out the 48 months.

Dearstyne wanted 57 months on the First Degree Burglary charge with three consecutive months on the protection order violation.

Tiffany acknowledged the sentencing strategy presented unique legal issues, but chose a safer path.

"The judge obviously stayed right in the middle of the gridline there," Diana Defatte said of range of sentencing options Tiffany had at his disposal. "I thought at one point he would go heavier but he stayed very cautious with what he sentenced him with."

Defatte has no criminal history. He once again apologized for his actions and said he hoped "Diana can heal."

Tiffany sentenced him to a concurrent 12 months and a day on the Third Degree Assault charge, with no time for the protection order violation.

"I give high regard and significant deference to the actions of the jury," Tiffany said. He had earlier denied a litany of post-trial motions to set aside the verdict or minimize Defatte's sentence.

Jury service is a critical component of serving justice, Tiffany said.

"Mr. Defatte, you must recognize you did callously disregard the Order for Protection for Mrs. Defatte," Tiffany scolded the defendant. "It is apparent to me Mrs. Defatte was terrorized. She suffered significant physical harm as a result of your conduct... Your apology is noted but you have shattered a sense of security for Mrs. Defatte."

Tiffany also acknowledged receiving numerous letters in the case, some supporting Defatte, who completed an anger management course in 2010.

"The letters that speak of your gentle nature are contrary to the jury findings," that convicted him of two crimes of violence, Tiffany noted. "You went beyond the bounds of normal behavior and have to face the consequences."

Because of those convictions, Defatte, a former member of the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department Mounted Posse, is forever prohibited from possessing a pistol or semi-automatic weapon.

Defatte was fined a total of $550, ordered to pay court costs and he must pay $1,921 in restitution to the Crime Victims Reparation Board. He will be on five years probation for the assault conviction.

Diana Defatte will be notified of her ex-husband's release date.

"The sentence as far as what he got out of it, like I said, I'll live on for who knows how long and it affects my children," the victim said. "As soon as he's out from behind bars, it's not just me. It's my children, it's my grandchildren."

With time off for good behavior, Defatte will serve two-thirds of the time behind bars and the remaining third on supervised release. He will be given credit for 239 days already served. He was ordered immediately into custody after the jury verdict.

"Good luck to you sir," Tiffany said.

"I rely very much on my Creator and I have a very good support system," Diana Defatte said. "And it's not just our children. His family has been very good to me. Everywhere I've needed help, through Headwaters (Intervention Center), anywhere, and I'm very thankful they're there."

She also took issue with the sentencing grid that afforded her ex-husband a relatively lenient sentence.

"I do realize that these county courts are working within Minnesota guidelines," she said. "To me Minnesota guidelines stink."

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ssmit

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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