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Tom Hintgen, Forum News Service, Published February 05 2014

Otter Tail County jury rejects family's claims in wrongful death suit after murder-suicide

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – An Otter Tail County jury has rejected a family’s claims in a wrongful death suit filed after a murder-suicide three years ago.

In March 2011, Tabitha Belmonte, 16, was shot and killed at the Cox family’s Amor home by Dylan Cox, 17, who then turned the gun on himself.

Belmonte’s mother, Bobbi Teeple of Dent, and eight other family members had asked for a total of $5 million from the Cox family. Each plaintiff sought more than $50,000.

After a three-day trial in Otter Tail County District Court, the jury on Jan. 29 rejected all claims, unanimously siding in favor of the Cox family and awarding no money to the plaintiffs.

Teeple and the other plaintiffs had alleged that Dylan’s parents, Darrin and Catherine Cox, kept several firearms in their home and created an unsafe environment for the young couple, who were living there with their infant daughter, Emma.

The jury ruled that the shooting was neither foreseeable nor intentional, determining that it was “unintentional by reason of mental illness or defect” on the part of Dylan Cox, according to court records.

The jury also took notice that several plaintiffs did not fit within the legal definition of “next of kin,” since Tabitha Belmonte was never legally adopted by Steven L. Teeple Sr., Bobbi Teeple’s husband. The law states that a wrongful death suit “can be filed by a spouse or family member(s) of the deceased.”

The plaintiff exhibit list during the trial included medical records, Facebook records, cellphone text messages and Department of Human Services family assessments.