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Published August 27 2012

Defense: Fargo man charged with killing wife should be in hospital, possibly for life

FARGO – Attorneys for a Fargo man accused of murdering his wife are asking a judge to suspend the case and commit him to the State Hospital for treatment until he either re-gains competency “or reaches the end of his maximum possible sentence for the underlying offenses.”

The latter would mean a lifetime commitment for 50-year-old Henry Leo Deniger, who faces up to life in prison without parole if convicted in the fatal stabbing of his wife, Kathye Deniger. Her body was found in the couple’s south Fargo apartment March 6.

Prosecutor Reid Brady, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney, said on Monday that he received the motion late Friday and hadn’t decided yet whether to oppose it.

“I don’t know that we’ve had too many situations quite like this,” he said.

The motion to suspend the case comes after two psychological evaluations of Deniger.

The first took place May 16-17 at the State Hospital in Jamestown to determine if Deniger could be held criminally responsible for his actions.

Though the conclusion of that evaluation is private, the motion states the report – and Deniger’s interactions with his public defenders, Gordon Dexheimer and Nicholas Thornton – raised issues about his fitness to proceed, his ability to assist in his defense and his ability to communicate with counsel.

Based on the first report, the defense attorneys then sought a competency evaluation, which was completed July 27. The motion to suspend the case is based on conclusions concerning Deniger’s mental status the psychologist drew from the second examination.

The psychologist suggested in her report that Deniger “currently lacks fitness to proceed in this matter, but may regain fitness in the foreseeable future,” the motion states.

She suggested the best place for Deniger to receive competency restoration treatment is the State Hospital, where his psychological conditions would be more closely monitored by properly trained and licensed personnel than at the Cass County Jail, the motion states.

Brady said if an order for commitment were to be issued, he doesn’t believe it would allow for indefinite commitment.

“I would believe there would have to be additional hearings before he could be sent there forever,” he said.

A hearing on the motion is set for Wednesday in Cass County District Court.

Also at that time, Judge Steven McCullough will consider Thornton’s motion to withdraw from the case.

Deniger previously asked the judge to replace Thornton because of what Deniger perceived as a conflict of interest between Thornton and some of the state’s possible witnesses. The judge denied the request.

Deniger’s attorneys did not return messages seeking comment.

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