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Settlement possible in Fond du Lac Band vets home killing

Joel Ammesmaki dropped a probable cause challenge in the death of Clyde Atwood.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki mug shot
Joel Jay Ammesmaki
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CARLTON — A Fond du Lac Band veterans home resident dropped his bid to dismiss a homicide charge and will consider a potential plea agreement in the killing of a fellow resident.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki, 59, was scheduled to appear Monday in State District Court for a contested hearing with testimony following last September's death of Clyde "Jody" Atwood, 60, during a fight at the Cloquet housing complex.

Defense attorney William Gatton previously filed a motion to dismiss his client's first-degree manslaughter charge for a lack of probable cause, citing a claim of self-defense, and indicating he might call Ammesmaki, a medical examiner and others as witnesses.

A court is expected to hear testimony in April on the death of Clyde "Jody" Atwood, as defendant Joel Ammesmaki seeks dismissal of a manslaughter charge.

But Gatton and Carlton County prosecutor Jeff Boucher spent an extended period of time meeting in chambers with Judge Rebekka Stumme ahead of the hearing. Gatton then emerged and met privately with Ammesmaki, who is free on bond and waited quietly in a hallway outside the courtroom.

When they finally went on the record nearly an hour after the scheduled hearing time, Gatton informed the court that his client was withdrawing the pretrial dismissal motion.

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"You have decided to waive that probable cause challenge in order to go ahead with some other strategies to see if we can settle this case?" the defense attorney asked.

"Yes," Ammesmaki replied.

The attorneys requested that a scheduling conference be set to discuss the next steps; the date was not immediately determined.

No details of any potential agreement were disclosed, and while Ammesmaki dropped the probable cause challenge, he retains the right to take the case to trial.

FDL veterans home.png
The Fond du Lac Veterans Supportive Housing building in Cloquet in September 2021.
Contributed / Cloquet Police Department

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

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, the complaint states, and paramedics told officers he was dead.

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

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Ammesmaki allegedly went on to state 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.

Family members of Jackie Defoe and Kevin Shabaiash Jr. described how have they have sought to forgive while living their "worst nightmare."

Officers collected security footage from the complex that reportedly showed Ammesmaki and Atwood entering his apartment at 12:34 a.m.

Footage showed Ammesmaki leave 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.

Ammesmaki has remained free under pretrial supervision. He told Judge Stumme on Monday that he recently completed an inpatient treatment program and is now receiving outpatient services.

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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