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Self-defense claimed in Cloquet veterans home fight death

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.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki.jpg
Joel Jay Ammesmaki
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DULUTH — A Fond du Lac Reservation veterans home resident accused of fatally assaulting another man in September will argue that the case should be dismissed because he was acting in self-defense.

Joel Jay Ammesmaki, 58, faces a first-degree manslaughter charge in the death of 60-year-old Clyde "Jody" Atwood.

At a virtual hearing Monday in State District Court in Carlton, defense attorney William Gatton requested a contested hearing on his motion to dismiss the complaint for a lack of probable cause.

Gatton indicated he may call Ammesmaki, a medical examiner and other witnesses to testify regarding the circumstances and cause of Atwood's death.

A final autopsy report isn't expected to be delivered until next month, Carlton County prosecutor Jeff Boucher said. And with the 6th Judicial District currently conducting nearly all hearings remotely due to the COVID-19 surge, Judge Rebekka Stumme tentatively set the in-person hearing for April 29.

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Gatton told the court that the three-month window "would also give us an opportunity to discuss possible avenues of settlement."

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

The incident occurred Sept. 14 at the Veterans Housing Complex, 1569 Zhimaaganishag Road, on the Fond du Lac Reservation in 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.

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.

A January hearing has been set for Joel Ammesmaki, who is accused of causing Clyde Atwood's death during a September fight at a veterans home on the Fond du Lac Reservation.

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

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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.

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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