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Appeals court upholds conviction of Lake George man

PARK RAPIDS -- The Minnesota Court of Appeals has upheld the conviction of a Lake George man accused in the brutal domestic assault of his estranged wife in June 2009.

A Hubbard County District Court jury found John Wesley Defatte Sr., 71, guilty of domestic assault in December 2010, following a four-day trial.

He was sentenced to 48 months in prison for the crime, for which he broke into the victim's home in violation of a protection order.

Defatte appealed on the grounds that a statement he gave to a deputy was taken in violation of his constitutional rights.

The Appeals Court disagreed, maintaining that a statement Defatte voluntarily gave in the booking room that night probably shouldn't have been admitted into court but did not prejudice Defatte's right to a fair trial.

Although the court ruled Defatte was undergoing a custodial interrogation at the time a deputy asked him if he wanted to give his side of the events after the assault and Defatte admitted, "I went over there and just, I just lost it," the court said that statement wasn't the whole basis of the jury's verdict.

Defatte's estranged wife suffered numerous injuries, including a fractured eye socket, multiple contusions and a head wound. He claimed self-defense at trial and said his wife's injuries were suffered in a fall during their scuffle.

Defatte's "description of the events that caused (the victim's) injuries is inherently implausible in that it does not explain how falling and hitting an end table could both fracture an eye socket and cause a serious laceration on the back of (her) head," the Court ruled. "We conclude that the jury's verdict is surely unattributable to the erroneously admitted statement."

"Accordingly, the error in admitting the statement to the deputy was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt," the unpublished opinion stated.

Unpublished opinions are typically not cited as precedent for other cases and are generally issued in cases that can be settled by applying clearly established rules.