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Sentencing in domestic abuse case pushed back for one month

John Wesley Defatte Sr.

After a lengthy hearing in which Judge Robert Tiffany denied a litany of defense motions to dismiss two convictions against a Lake George man in a 2009 domestic assault case, Tiffany then postponed Monday's sentencing to hear additional arguments.

John Wesley Defatte, 70, was found guilty by a Hubbard County jury in late 2010 in the domestic beating of his ex-wife Diana.

He was convicted of First Degree Burglary, for breaking into her rural Lake George home and Third Degree Assault, for hitting her repeatedly with an ax handle.

Defatte's attorney Jake Erickson filed numerous motions to overturn the jury verdict and grant Defatte a new trial, claiming his client was denied a fair trial and the two felony counts the jury found him guilty of were inconsistent with the two counts jurors acquitted him of.

Erickson has maintained Defatte was assaulted by his ex-wife and only reacted in self-defense to control her.

The jury didn't buy that argument, but it acquitted Defatte of domestic strangulation when Diana Defatte testified she couldn't remember if she lost consciousness during the struggle, which was a key element of the crime.

She suffered several head injuries including a broken eye socket, which the defense claimed were the result of her hitting her head on the coffee table during the altercation.

John Defatte's attorney had asked the judge to issue an "accomplice" jury instruction, which was denied at trial.

"Mrs. Defatte could never be charged with assaulting herself," Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne argued in court Monday. An emergency room physician had testified at trial the victim's injuries could not have been suffered in a fall as suggested by the defense.

Tiffany noted crime victims cannot be charged as accomplices to their own injuries under Minnesota law.

"His entitlement is to a fair trial, not a perfect trial," Tiffany said, readiing from a precedent-setting case.

Dearstyne is asking for 57 months on the burglary charge, to be served consecutively with a 90-day, 12-month sentence for the assault.

Erickson is asking for 41 months on the burglary charge and no sentence on the assault charge.

Defatte has no criminal history, Erickson argued, so he "doesn't deserve consecutive sentences" and by law cannot receive them.

"She suffered substantial bodily harm while he was violating a court order" to stay away from her, Dearstyne argued.

He said the family had suffered 40 years of abuse at the hands of John Defatte, who was never convicted in any of the incidents. Defatte was also convicted by the jury of violating a protection order, and that's where the disagreement arose. Erickson maintained that misdemeanor charge should be dismissed.

The charge of violating the protection order is a "lesser included offense" of the burglary charge, in which Defatte was convicted of entering his ex-wife's home and assaulting her.

To sentence him on both counts would be tantamount to double jeopardy, Erickson argued.

And the assault count is already included in the burglary charge, he maintained, so Defatte can only be sentenced on the burglary count.

Dearstyne maintains the crimes have separate elements and at the very minimum, Defatte should be sentenced on all three and serve the time concurrently.

Defatte gave his own statement, apologizing for "the pain and heartache" he'd caused his ex-wife "and her family."

He failed to mention that the children were also his. He said in the year he was out on bond, he successfully completed an anger management course, helped set up a shelter for men in the county and performed volunteer work.

He is a former member of the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department's mounted posse.

Defatte said he hoped all the victims would heal. "They're people I've spent most of my life with."

Tiffany said he would seek written arguments on what crimes he should sentence the defendant on and mete out punishment Feb. 16.

Defatte has been incarcerated since the verdict.

Sarah Smith

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

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