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Cloquet man guilty of manslaughter in FDL vets home killing

Joel Ammesmaki may seek probation rather than a prison term after admitting to "culpable negligence" in the fight death of Clyde "Jody" Atwood.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki.jpg
Joel Jay Ammesmaki
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CARLTON — A man has pleaded guilty to fatally assaulting a fellow resident of the veterans home on the Fond du Lac Reservation in September 2021.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki, 59, entered the plea at a hearing Friday in State District Court to an amended count of second-degree manslaughter in the death of 60-year-old Clyde "Jody" Atwood.

Ammesmaki was originally charged with first-degree manslaughter and asserted self-defense, but he had been in settlement discussions with the Carlton County Attorney's Office since at least June.

The conviction carries a presumptive prison term of approximately four years, but the plea agreement allows Ammesmaki to file a motion to depart from state guidelines and request a probationary sentence.

Judge Rebekka Stumme ordered an investigation into the defendant's background ahead of sentencing on March 21.

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The incident occurred Sept. 14 at the Fond du Lac Veterans Supportive Housing building, 1569 Zhimaaganishag Road, Cloquet.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki faces up to 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine if convicted of the charges.

A criminal complaint states that Ammesmaki reported he got into a fight with Atwood and wanted him removed from his apartment before officers arrived on the scene and found the defendant standing near a couch, with the victim lying face-up on the floor with blood around his nose. Atwood was unresponsive and not breathing, and paramedics told officers he was dead.

While police and medics were tending to Atwood, Ammesmaki reportedly became distraught and said "it wasn't supposed to go this way," telling officers that he had punched the victim in the face while they were fighting.

Ammesmaki added that he was drinking with Atwood and watching a football game and a movie. He said Atwood called him the name of another resident at the complex and attempted to punch him but did not make contact.

Ammesmaki then punched the victim twice and he fell down, according to the complaint, but the defendant said he thought Atwood was sleeping. Officers collected security footage from the complex that reportedly showed Ammesmaki and Atwood entering his apartment at 12:34 a.m.

Footage showed Ammesmaki left his apartment to visit the security desk twice and once to knock on the door of another apartment between Atwood's arrival and when police showed up at 2:11 a.m., the complaint states. No one else was seen leaving or entering the apartment during that time.

The amended manslaughter charge required Ammesmaki to acknowledge that he caused Atwood's death through "culpable negligence, whereby the (defendant) creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another."

Ammesmaki has remained free under pretrial supervision since shortly after his arraignment. He told the court last summer that he had been receiving both inpatient and outpatient treatment services.

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Atwood served in the U.S. Navy from 1981-85 and earned a bachelor's degree in accounting. An obituary said he struggled with alcoholism for many years, but was "remembered for his sense of humor and generosity."

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Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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