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Published March 31 2012

Accused murderer Deniger's mental competency questioned several times

FARGO – In 2001, facing a felony charge for a violent carjacking in Seattle, Henry Deniger asked a judge to commit him to a mental hospital and acquit him by reason of insanity.

King County Judge Helen Halpert granted the request, declaring in her judgment, “At the time of the charged crime the defendant was insane.”

Court records dating back to 1987 obtained by The Forum show the Seattle case was one of several in which the mental competency of Deniger, who now stands accused in Fargo of murdering his 52-year-old wife, Kathye, was brought into question.

Kathye Deniger’s daughter, Karena Magnuson, said it seems like Henry Deniger “just keeps on skating by, and that’s what’s so frustrating for me and the rest of my family.”

Magnuson, who lives in Gresham, Ore., recently took possession of her mother’s cremated remains and personal effects.

“I got a jar full of ashes, a bloody ring and a book of matches. That’s what I have left of my mom,” she said.

It’s unclear whether Deniger will try to use his mental status as a defense to the current Class AA felony murder charge he faces in Cass County District Court. He has yet to appear on the charge, and he doesn’t have an attorney yet in the criminal case.

Deniger, 50, remains held on

$1 million bail in the Stearns County Jail in St. Cloud, Minn. where he was arrested March 7. In court documents, police claim Deniger confessed to killing his wife after he was arrested.

An extradition hearing is set for Thursday in Stearns County District Court.

Matt Holson, the public defender assigned to Deniger in the extradition matter, said he can’t discuss his conversations with Deniger, citing attorney-client privilege.

“At this point, he’s waiting to see what’s going to happen with the extradition,” Holson said.

The Stearns County Jail doesn’t accept messages for inmates except from their attorneys. Holson didn’t reply to a request for an interview with Deniger.

Committed to hospital

It was just past midnight on June 25, 2001, on Seattle’s Minor Avenue.

The woman was sitting in her car, waiting for her boyfriend, when a man with curly hair and a dirty, long white coat knocked on the passenger door.

Scared, she locked the doors.

He hit the window with a brick several times until it broke. As he got in on the passenger side, she went out the driver-side door, screaming. Her boyfriend showed up and kicked the man, trying to stop him, but he took off in the car.

About 90 minutes later, a school security investigator spotted the stolen car and chased its driver, Deniger, to a middle school campus, ordering him to the ground at gunpoint, court records show.

Prosecutors sought bail of $25,000, citing Deniger’s previous convictions in Washington for harassment, assault and theft.

Deniger, then 39 years old with a GED, initially was ruled competent to stand trial. But less than two weeks later, he made a motion for acquittal and a request for commitment to Washington’s Western State Hospital to determine if he needed additional inpatient treatment.

A doctor at the hospital recommended outpatient treatment under the conditions that Deniger be followed closely by a community corrections officer, undergo a substance abuse evaluation and “be under the direct care of a psychiatrist who meets with him monthly and ensures that he is medication-compliant.”

The judge found Deniger not guilty by reason of insanity on Sept. 18, 2002, and a commitment order was filed nine days later.

In July 2003, his social worker from Western State Hospital contacted a prosecutor to report that she believed that Deniger wasn’t following the conditions of his release. She saw him in person and “he appeared disheveled, was euphoric, and talking about the CIA,” the prosecutor wrote in his report.

The social worker contacted Deniger two days later by phone to arrange for him to come back to the hospital to see the doctor about his medications, but he refused “and threatened to kill her if she (messed) with him,” the report says.

A warrant was issued for Deniger’s arrest on July 23, 2003, and he was taken into custody about two weeks later. The matter dragged on until Dec. 2, 2005, when Judge Halpert, after considering a report from Western State Hospital, released Deniger from any further control by the court in the criminal insanity proceeding.

Western State Hospital denied The Forum’s request for Deniger’s records, citing confidentiality laws.

As previously reported by The Forum, a harassment charge filed against Deniger in July 2008 in Seattle Municipal Court also was dismissed for reason of incompetency.

His mental competency also was an issue after his arrest in January 2008 for allegedly stealing a grapefruit from a Tacoma grocery store and kicking a police officer.

A judge ordered that jail and Western State Hospital staff be allowed to administer psychotropic drugs and other medication for Deniger’s diabetes and other health problems in order to “restore and maintain the defendant’s competency.” The theft and assault charges were eventually dropped.

‘Whacked out’ in Idaho

Deniger had run-ins with the law long before moving to Washington, court records show.

He was charged with battery and domestic battery for allegedly assaulting his live-in girlfriend and another woman on April 17, 1999, at a campground in Idaho’s Nez Perce County.

The girlfriend told a sheriff’s deputy that during the camping trip, Deniger became verbally abusive toward her 11-year-old son. She said that when her neighbor, who was along for the trip, tried to intervene, Deniger pushed her. He then grabbed his girlfriend by the throat, slammed her into a tree and punched her in the body, she said.

Deniger went back to the neighbor, threw her on the ground and punched her several times in the body, the deputy’s report says.

The next day, when a deputy led the two victims back to the campground to get their gear, the neighbor said Deniger had been “whacked out on drugs,” the report says. The girlfriend said Deniger had been taking prescription medications while drinking beer. She said she and her neighbor had about four or five beers during the course of the evening, “and that Deniger had the remaining case and a half,” the report says. The girlfriend was afraid Deniger was going to hurt her if released, telling the deputy, “He said he would kill me if he went to jail,” the report says.

Deniger failed to appear for a court hearing on the charges on Sept. 7, 1999. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but it hasn’t been executed, and the case file is listed as inactive.

In a 1996 case in Key West, Fla., Deniger was charged with felony criminal mischief and misdemeanor trespassing. He was initially deemed incompetent to stand trial and committed to the Department of Health & Rehabilitative Services. About six months later, he was found competent and eventually pleaded guilty to the trespassing charge, receiving an 11-month jail sentence, according to Florida state records.

‘How many more?’

Magnuson said her mother met Henry Deniger while both were patients at Western State Hospital, the same hospital where he was committed as part of the 2001 carjacking case.

Kathye Deniger had checked herself in after suffering a mental breakdown, she said.

It wasn’t clear from court records in the 2008 Seattle harassment case if Henry Deniger had been recommitted to Western State Hospital as a result of the dismissal of that charge for competency reasons.

After Kathye Deniger was released from the mental hospital on Oct. 20, 2009, she drove back and forth to the Tacoma, Wash., area to see Henry Deniger, Magnuson said.

The couple decided to move to Maine, where Henry Deniger has roots, but they got into a fight during the drive there and Henry Deniger kicked his wife out of the car in Fargo, Magnuson said. Kathye Deniger was on her own for about six weeks – long enough to find a job and an apartment – before Henry Deniger returned and moved in with her, Magnuson told The Forum.

The couple obtained a marriage license from Cass County on Sept. 22, 2010, and tied the knot on Oct. 7, 2010, county records show.

Magnuson said her mother told her that Deniger had gone off his medication and assaulted her about two months before her death. Fargo police have said they didn’t receive any assault-related calls to the apartment at 2601 14th St. S., where Kathye Deniger was found stabbed to death March 6, the day before Henry Deniger’s arrest.

Magnuson said she wonders how many more times Henry Deniger will be put into a rehabilitation or hospital setting where someone ultimately deems him suitable for release.

“How many more moms are going to get killed ... because (Deniger) keeps getting out?” she said.

“I don’t understand why my mother’s in a jar on my (expletive) table, and this man, I know, is going to go into the court, and he’s going to say, ‘Oh, I’m crazy,’ ” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528