John Wesley Defatte Sr. was an angry man when he left Hubbard County District Court last month on a domestic abuse matter.
His estranged wife had taken out an Order For Protection, contending she had been the victim of domestic abuse over the course of their lengthy marriage. She wanted out. She was even afraid to be in the same courtroom as her husband. Bailiff Phil Stuemke hovered over her protectively.
Judge Robert Tiffany cautioned Defatte several times that he would tolerate no outbursts in the courtroom when the Lake George man objected to several points during the hearing. Decorum was to be maintained regardless of the outcome of the hearing, Tiffany warned.
The judge granted the OFP and prohibited Defatte, 69, from having contact with his wife, ordered him to stay off the couple's property and get on with his life.
Defatte objected, saying his welding tools were in his garage and he needed them to make a living. That contradicted his earlier contention that he was receiving Social Security Disability as his sole source of income.
He told the judge he was living in his pickup in the woods, homeless and destitute.
His wife's attorney was skeptical, telling the judge it was simply Defatte's way of manipulating his wife and family.
The judge urged Defatte, a former member of the Sheriff's Department mounted posse, to get a permanent address so the court could keep him informed of the proceedings.
Monday night, Defatte returned to the home, against court orders.
"He broke into the house," said Frank Solchaga, a paralegal who said he was helping Defatte's wife through the criminal justice system.
"He used an ax handle to beat her and destroy the property there."
The victim was hospitalized overnight in Bemidji for her serious injuries.
Wednesday, Defatte appeared again in Hubbard County District Court, dressed in orange prison scrubs.
He maintained his innocence, claiming the original OFP was "based on lies" his wife told Judge Tiffany, and that his recent contact with his wife, in violation of the order, was all a misunderstanding. He said he has no access to weapons, except a firearm owned by his son-in-law.
"I have yelled," he admitted Wednesday. But he claimed his wife "took everything, my home, my livelihood, all my toys. I couldn't get home...I've been homeless, sleeping in my truck or in the woods. I tried to find a home I could afford but my assets are all tied up. I was getting very much like I was all alone in this world. Everything went sour."
Assistant Hubbard County Attorney Erika Randall asked Judge Paul Rasmussen to set a high bail, $350,000 without conditions, or $250,000 with the condition that the "no contact" order be kept in place.
"The state is very concerned for this victim's safety and the Order For Protection has clearly not protected her from contact by him," she told the judge.
Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer said he's familiar with the situation, and it's not unlike many of the domestic disturbances the department deals with on a daily basis.
This one, however, went to extremes, he acknowledged.
"We've dealt with John and he can get pretty aggressive," he said. But the sheriff added that for the number of OFPs the court issues, there are not many violations.
"Those orders give us leverage to correct the situation," he said.
When officers arrived at the Defatte home, 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 Homer, reading from the crime report.
She required staples to close the gash in her head. Her orbital bone was broken, according to the hospital report. Her body was bruised and welted from head to toe.
Homer said victims need to call for help so his office can render it. Otherwise, he said, domestic abuse, like this case, continues unabated and escalates.
Defatte faces five felony charges in connection with the assault and burglary.
The Second-Degree Assault with a Deadly Weapon charge carries a maximum of 10 years in jail and/or a $20,000 fine upon conviction. The First Degree Burglary charge is punishable by a maximum of 20 years and/or a $35,000 fine.
He's also charged with Third Degree Assault, punishable by a maximum of five years and/or a $10,000 fine; Domestic Assault by Strangulation, which carries a maximum of three years and/or a $5,000 fine and Violation of a Protection Order, punishable by 90 days and/or a $1,000 fine.
Defatte remains in the Hubbard County Correctional Center.