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Jury finds Lake George man guilty of 2009 assault on ex-wife

Diana Defatte's face was photographed the night of her assault in a Bemidji emergency room. The orbital bone around her left eye was broken; a doctor repaired a gash to the back of her head and she was treated for multiple contusions up and down her arms. Her neck was placed temporarily in a cervical collar to stabilize it. (Law Enforcement photo)

John Wesley Defatte turned rejection into revenge.

That was the finding of a Hubbard County District Court jury Friday as the 70-year-old Lake George man was convicted of three of five counts in connection with the June 2009 assault on his ex-wife, Diana.

The 12-member jury deliberated three hours after the four-day trial.

Defatte was convicted of the most serious charge, breaking into his ex-wife's rural home and lying in wait for her that night. He was also convicted of Third Degree Assault, for fracturing her orbital bone, and violating the protection order she had taken out a month earlier.

He was acquitted of Second Degree Assault with a Weapon and Domestic Assault by Strangulation.

"It was the CSI factor," prosecuting attorney Don Dearstyne said. There were no fingerprints taken from the weapon, a minimum of blood found and the traumatized victim said she couldn't remember if she blacked out when her then estranged husband tried to force the handle down over her neck as she fought back. Hence, no conclusive proof of strangulation, jurors reasoned.

Juries are increasingly getting sensitive to forensic matters after watching crime dramas on TV, Dearstyne said.

Diana Defatte testified to an encounter with her estranged husband, of being ambushed in her dining room and repeatedly clubbed with an ax handle when she returned from work.

"He took that bat and slammed it into the back of my head like somebody hitting a baseball," a tearful Diana Defatte told the jury.

When he struck her in the face "my eye exploded," she testified, biting her lip to keep her composure.

"He just kept hitting and hitting and hitting," she said.

He grabbed her by the hair "and slammed my head into the floor," she said. "He was sucker punching me in the face. I was watching blood drip on the floor."

When John Defatte then kneeled on her back, "I didn't think I'd ever walk again," she testified. Defatte is a well-muscled man over 200 pounds, he testified. His victim weighed 130.

"I kept screaming, 'You're gonna kill me, you're gonna kill me!' and he didn't stop."

She said he wrenched her neck around, trying to twist her head off her shoulders.

"I thought it was broken," she said of her neck.

She testified that when the beating stopped, she saw her ex-husband "leaning against the hutch, blood on his light blue shirt," arms crossed looking at her.

"You need to go to a doctor," he told her.

"He was as cool as a cucumber," Diana Defatte testified, sitting 15 feet from her ex-husband, looking him in the eyes. The couple was legally divorced in September.

She got into her car and raced for help in Lake George, she said.

In a classical "he said, she said" case, John Defatte testified he went to his estranged wife's home to discuss the divorce settlement with her, knowing he was under a court order prohibiting him from being on the property.

He'd been served divorce papers and was trying to settle the matter without incurring legal bills, he told the jury.

He said an argument escalated into a fight, with his estranged wife striking him first with the ax handle. He said he "immediately reacted" and grabbed her arm to prevent her from hitting him further.

"I tried to control the situation by controlling her," he told jurors.

Her injuries occurred when the couple fell to the floor and she struck her head on the coffee table, John Defatte testified. He did not explain how she got the large gash on the back of her head.

He said he'd let his hair grow out after retirement, which his wife hated. That morning in June 2009 he got shaved and a hair cut.

"I was hoping she'd see the man she married," he testified. "I was trying to save a 40-year marriage."

An emergency physician from North Memorial Hospital in Bemidji testified that Diana Defatte's eye injury was unusual and potentially fatal.

"The force used shattered the (orbital) bone and pushed air out of the sinus into the eye," Dr. William Schuller testified. "With the air dispersed around the eye there's a higher likelihood of infection to the brain," he testified. "Infection to the brain can be life threatening."

Diana Defatte was treated for multiple contusions and cuts. The back of her head was stapled where the club had landed. She was unable to see for two weeks as her eye healed, she testified.

Defatte was taken immediately into custody Friday afternoon after Dearstyne objected to his being free until sentencing Jan. 10.

Diana Defatte said Monday she is grateful for all the help she received from law enforcement, victim's services and abuse counselors. Three of the couple's children sat through the trial to support their mother. They had to leave frequently when the testimony became too graphic.

Victim Coordinator Jill Christenson said Diana Defatte was a typical victim of "battered wife syndrome."

Sarah Smith

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

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