OLIVIA, Minn. — The man who still has a bullet in his nose from the gun of Michael Klatt said he believed Klatt planned to murder him and Klatt’s wife at the business where they worked in the small southern Minnesota town of Fairfax.
Kenneth Eckstein of Hector talked about the January shooting during a victim impact statement at Klatt’s sentencing Monday, Oct. 7, in Renville County District Court.
Michael Klatt, 60, of Fairfax, received a 15-year prison sentence Monday for shooting Eckstein.
Klatt pleaded guilty in August to second-degree attempted murder and second-degree assault. He had originally been charged with first-degree attempted murder.
He was ordered to serve 180 months with credit for nine months already served in jail. He will serve at least two-thirds of the sentence in prison and the rest on supervised release.
He was accused of bringing a loaded gun to Weis Oil-Smart Mart, a convenience store/service station in Fairfax, on Jan. 11. He had walked 10 blocks with a .22-caliber rifle in the leg of his overalls.
According to court records, Michael Klatt spoke briefly with the manager before he said he wanted to talk to Eckstein and Tonya Klatt and cornered them in their offices, pointing the gun at one and then the other. She dialed 911, and Eckstein grabbed the gun from Klatt’s hand.
The gun went off, badly damaging Eckstein’s finger and entering his face through his nose. The bullet is still lodged at the base of his skull and cannot be removed.
Before Michael Klatt was sentenced, his victims and their family members shared the story of how the attack has affected their lives.
Their emotion-filled statements demonstrated the ripples of pain and emotional trauma that have radiated from that one day.
Tonya Klatt was the first to speak. “My sense of safety and security have been stripped away,” she said, adding that she has flashbacks of her husband pointing a loaded gun with his finger on the trigger.
She said she hears him dragging his leg that morning, a limp caused by carrying the loaded rifle in his pants leg.
Even though he has been in jail, “he has found ways to continue to harass me,” she said.
Kenneth Eckstein was only trying to protect her, she said. “He could have died; I thank God he sent his guardian angel to watch over him.”
In the small town of Fairfax, she said, “everybody is scared,” including family, friends and neighbors.
Her husband had recently learned he suffered from liver failure and that she was leaving him, she said, and “he was looking for someone to blame.”
Kenneth Eckstein spoke after several of his family members delivered their statements.
He described the day of the shooting and said he disarmed Michael Klatt without realizing he had been shot.
He’s been through multiple hospitalizations, surgeries and physical therapy sessions, he said. He has headaches and sinus damage, in addition to the bullet lodged in his head. He has yet to regain full use of his hand.
His children have been there for him and his daughter cared for him in her home after the shooting, he said. “They were afraid for me; they still are,” he said. “My mom and siblings are all very afraid.”
The shooting shook what was thought to be a “pretty safe” rural town, he said.
Eckstein said he believed Michael Klatt did not intend to talk to them that day.
He addressed Michael Klatt and said, “I have no doubt in my mind you came to kill us. You are evil and the devil himself.”
Eckstein’s children talked about flashbacks from that day and of having nightmares. They asked the judge to give Michael Klatt the maximum sentence allowed.
Eckstein’s mother, Joann Eckstein, in a prepared statement read in court, said Michael Klatt should get life in prison, because “my son has a life sentence.”
Rebecca Klatt, the daughter of Michael Klatt and Tonya Klatt, asked for mercy from the court for her father and said she loves both her parents.
Judge Laurence Stratton asked Michael Klatt if he had anything to say before he was sentenced. “Nobody regrets more than me what happened,” he said. He said he was sorry for what he put his wife, Kenneth Eckstein and both families through.
Stratton said he appreciated the bravery and honesty of those who spoke. He had been asked to impose a long sentence and also to show mercy, he said.
“What Mr. Klatt did was the nightmare scenario we’re facing in this country,” Stratton said. Pointing a gun at someone “is one of the most unacceptable acts someone can do.”
Michael Klatt had received some mercy by having a charge reduced from first-degree attempted murder, Stratton said. “There’s no excuse for what he did,” he concluded.