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High risk witnesses approved to appear in domestic abuse trial

John Wesley Defatte Sr.

"A security nightmare" is how authorities are reacting to a judge's ruling last week to bring back a convicted murder and a man convicted of numerous assaults to testify at the trial of a Lake George man charged in a domestic assault case.

On Nov. 15, Judge Robert Tiffany granted a defense motion in the case against John Wesley Defatte Sr., 70, who is charged in the near-killing of his former wife during a domestic dispute in June 2009.

Tiffany's order, which County Attorney Don Dearstyne objected to, allows Richard Derek Wright and Tony Michael Winslow to be transported back to Hubbard County at taxpayer expense to testify on Defatte's behalf.

Wright was convicted of the strangulation murder of a Park Rapids woman in January 2008; Winslow was convicted of stabbing a man in Hubbard County in 2009.

Defatte's attorney is contending Defatte showed up in jail June 22, 2009, with a bruise on his neck following the domestic incident. Fellow inmates Wright and Winslow allegedly witnessed the bruise.

However, when Defatte was booked into the jail he indicated on the intake form he had suffered no injuries in the 24 hours prior to his arrest. Jail photos taken of Defatte during the booking process show no bruising.

Dearstyne is now asking the court to essentially shackle both men in the courtroom at all times and to make the defendant pay the tab for bringing the two back from prison.

Dearstyne has petitioned the court to force the men to wear knee locks, which would prevent a possible escape by automatically locking if the person wearing it started to run.

In his motion requesting the restraints, Dearstyne pointed out that both men have violent histories. Wright was convicted of an armed robbery in Michigan prior to the Park Rapids homicide.

In Dearstyne's motion, he asserts "the witnesses are in their 40s and are in good physical condition, able-bodied and powerfully built... and have convictions for murder, assaults and armed robbery, drive-by shooting and assaults of police officers."

Dearstyne, in his motion for Defatte to bear the costs of the transportation, maintains Defatte received "a divorce settlement of $36,000 and purchased a new Harley Davidson motorcycle this past summer."

Defatte has a privately retained attorney from St. Cloud. Dearstyne claims he has hidden assets and is not indigent as Defatte has maintained to the court.

Diana Defatte, who has agreed to allow publication of her name, took out a protection order against her then-estranged husband in May 2009, alleging she'd been the victim of spousal abuse for decades.

When officers arrived at the Defatte home June 22, 2009, the victim's "left eye was swollen shut, she had a bruise on her cheek, her shirt was torn and her body was covered in blood, she had multiple bruises, a head laceration and her head was covered in blood," said Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer, reading from the crime report. It alleged Defatte violated the protection order when he broke into the former family home, ransacked it and attacked his wife.

She required staples to close the gash in her head. Her orbital bone was broken, according to the hospital report.

In a hearing just before the assault, Defatte confronted Tiffany and said he was frustrated that he'd been evicted from his house and was living in the woods in his vehicle.

The amended complaint charges Defatte with Second Degree Assault with a Weapon Causing Bodily harm, First Degree Burglary, Third Degree Assault, Domestic Assault by Strangulation and Violation of a Protection Order. The most serious offense, the burglary charge, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years and/or a $35,000 fine; the least serious charge, the Violation of the Protection Order, is punishable by a maximum of 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine upon conviction.

Defatte has posted bail and is believed to be living with a girlfriend somewhere in the area.

Trial is set for Nov. 30.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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