Totem pole killer silent at sentencing for wife's killing
INTERNATIONAL FALLS -- Only Carl Muggli knows what he was thinking when his wife lay dying with her head and chest pinned under the totem pole the couple was crafting at their Ray, Minn., home.
And only Muggli knows what he was thinking Monday when he declined to say anything to the court before being sentenced to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence under state guidelines, by State District Court Judge Chad LeDuc.
Muggli, 51, pleaded guilty last month to the unintentional second-degree murder of his 61-year-old wife, Linda, in 2010. He had been indicted on a first-degree murder charge and faced the prospect of a life sentence. When pleading to the lesser charge, he admitted that he did nothing to help his wife during the incident and admitted that the two were in a heated argument about his Internet romance with an Alabama woman at the time of the incident.
After sentencing the defendant, LeDuc told Muggli that in his years as a defense attorney, prosecutor and judge he couldn't think of a case he has dealt with that more called for an emotional response from a defendant; yet Muggli displayed none. The judge said Muggli appeared to lack remorse.
LeDuc wondered aloud if Muggli is incapable of crying. He told the defendant that others who loved the victim would be crying now that the case is over.
Carl Muggli admitted in a plea hearing in State District Court last month that he raised a 5-foot wooden-handled cant hook -- used for lifting, turning and prying logs -- two-handed over his head in a threatening motion while his wife recoiled in fear, fell backward and knocked a 17-foot-long, 700-plus-pound totem pole out of its cradle system onto her head and chest, leading to the injuries that caused Linda Muggli's death.
He faced a guideline prison sentence of between 12 and 15 years for the unintentional second-degree murder plea.
"Carl Muggli didn't help Linda when she was under that totem pole because he wanted her to die," Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Robert Plesha told the court in arguing for the maximum sentence. Plesha prosecuted the case with assistance from Koochiching County Attorney Jeffrey Naglosky.
Koochiching County Sheriff Brian Jespersen was the lead investigator in the case when he was his office's chief deputy, and neither he nor Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Special Agent Paul Gheradi say they believe Muggli's version of events, but Jespersen accepted the conviction gained as part of a plea bargain.
"He got the maximum 180 months, so obviously the judge saw what the investigation proved all along: that he was guilty of this and deserves to serve his time," Jespersen said. "This definitely was no accident. Our investigation shows that. One hundred and ten pound Linda Muggli couldn't knock that totem pole out of its cradles like he said. It couldn't have happened that way."
Defense attorney Charles Hawkins said his client was remorseful over what happened. He suggested that Carl Muggli was incapable of showing emotion because he was raised in a foster home and wasn't taken to his dying mother's bedside when she died when he was 12 years old. He said his client's upbringing brought on a "level of callousness."
"If Mr. Muggli could change places with Linda Muggli, he'd do it in a minute, but he can't do that," Hawkins said.
Naglosky read four victim-impact statements written by Linda Muggli's relatives and friends that spoke of the woman's "passion for life, for beauty, for justice, for family, friends and nature."
Lynette Walters, a registered nurse, lived less than a mile from the Mugglis and commented about her late friend outside the courtroom.
"She had a passion for life," Walters said. "She had passion for her work. She was a master carver. She constantly would make quips about 'life's so short,' 'life's too short,' 'stop in.' And I would stop in and have coffee with her. She had a passion for nature and everything she got into. She was a perfectionist in her work. I could go on and on."
Carl and Linda Muggli were married 24 years and became internationally recognized for their work carving totem poles on their 20-acre property near Ray in Koochiching County.
Margaret Gonzalez, 58, the online "other woman," said in a phone interview from her Dothan, Ala., home last month that she was shocked at Muggli's admission because she didn't initially think he murdered his wife. She also said she is ashamed of herself for her actions in the romance.
Gonzalez said she first contacted the Mugglis because she was interested in buying a totem pole. She said she started to communicate more with Carl Muggli, and their relationship turned romantic.
"He was trying to talk sex talk with me, and that's where it started," Gonzalez said. She said she sent Muggli nude and partially nude photos of herself and another woman and she said he sent her a half-dozen nude photos of himself.
At his plea hearing, Muggli admitted that he started to communicate with Gonzalez and their relationship turned romantic online and that he engaged in Internet sex with her.
Charges were brought against Muggli after investigators learned of the romantic Facebook conversations. Gonzalez, who is identified in court documents as M.L.G., told a Koochiching County sheriff's deputy that she was on the phone with Muggli on the day his wife died and she heard him arguing with his wife about getting a divorce. Gonzalez said Muggli called her back 30 minutes later and told her an accident had happened and emergency medical technicians were working on his wife.
The Koochiching County Sheriff's Office began investigating Linda Muggli's death the day she died. Carl Muggli initially told investigators the totem pole wasn't lying level in a cradle as they worked on it, so he placed two or three two-by-fours under the pole to keep it level. He said they were turning the pole with a hook when it suddenly fell to the floor on top of his wife.
Six months later, Carl Muggli was arrested in Texas, where he and his late wife spent part of their winters and where he hunted wild boars.
Muggli was scheduled to stand trial last month in Beltrami County District Court on a charge of premeditated first-degree murder -- which is punishable by a mandatory life prison sentence -- and intentional second-degree murder when he reached the plea agreement with prosecutors.