Recording OKd by judge in case of man charged in attacking wife with hatchetNov 6, 2015 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer
A jury can hear a recording of a defendant saying he hit his wife in the head with a hatchet if his case goes to trial, a judge ruled at a Nov. 2 hearing in Lander District Court.
Lawyers for the man, Terry L. Schmuck, had argued the recorded interview violated the defendant's constitutional rights.
He has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, with prosecutors alleging he tried to kill his wife on May 28 at her home.
The two were divorcing at the time.
Prosecutors played the half-hour-long video of the interview in question during the Nov. 2 hearing. At one point in the interview Fremont County Sheriff's Det. Eric Granlund asks, "So you hit her in the head with the hatchet?"
"Yeah," Schmuck answers.
In the beginning of the interview, Schmuck told Granlund that anger about his divorce led him to drive to his wife's Kinnear home at about 9 p.m. on May 28.
"I got served papers," he said. "She wanted pretty much everything, full custody ... I went out there to confront her, and I lost it."
Schmuck said he brought a hatchet with him from his home. He said he was not supposed to be at his wife's house because of a restraining order.
In testimony at the Nov. 2 hearing, Granlund said the phone lines outside of the wife's house had been tampered with. In the interview, Schmuck confirmed he did something to the wires.
His description was hard to hear, but when Granlund asked if he pulled on the wires or used his hatchet, Schmuck replied, "Both."
Granlund also testified Nov. 2 that the jam on the front door of the home was broken when law enforcement arrived.
"I went through the front door," Schmuck said in the taped interview. "(I) pushed on it really hard and it popped open."
He had the hatchet in his hand when he went through the door, Schmuck said. He said his wife pointed a pistol at him and pulled the trigger; he heard it click two or three times.
"I can't believe she tried to shoot me" he said in the interview.
Then Schmuck said he struck his wife with the "sharp part" of the hatchet.
He put his hand on the top of his own head to show Granlund where the blow landed.
After striking his wife he said he carried the weapon into the basement and tossed it onto a pile of objects next to a washing machine.
Granlund testified investigators found the hatchet by following the defendant's description.
Schmuck said his wife then asked him to drive her to SageWest Health Care at Lander.
"She went down, and I took the gun away from her, and I helped her up," Schmuck said.
"I put a towel on her head, she got her boots on, we told the kids we were going, and we left."
Terry L. Schmuck's lawyer Jonathan Girard argued Granlund did not advise Schmuck of his Miranda rights properly before the taped interview took place. Girard says Granlund should have contacted the defendant's divorce lawyer before the interview.
By hiring the lawyer, the defendant had invoked his sixth amendment right to counsel, Girard argued. The divorce attorney had handled the hearing for the wife's temporary restraining order against Schmuck.
Fremont County Attorney Pat LeBrun argued the detective acted properly in the interview. The video shows Granlund reading Schmuck his Miranda rights. The detective clearly asked if Schmuck understood, but the defendant's response was unintelligible during the playback in the hearing.
On the tape, Granlund then asks, "Do you want to talk to me?"
Schmuck's answer was difficult to hear in court, and apparently at the time of the interview.
"Pardon?" Granlund asked in the video.
"Yes," Schmuck responded clearly.
Schmuck then signed a card Granlund gave him stating he understood his rights, though he did not appear to read the card.
District Court Judge Norman E. Young largely agreed with LeBrun's argument. The judge said the defendant waived his rights orally and in writing. Young also believed the divorce and protection order issues were separate from the criminal case, so simply hiring a lawyer for the former is not an invocation of a right to counsel for the latter.
The judge denied the defendant's motion to bar the taped interview from Schmuck's trial. It is still possible the defense could object to its inclusion on other grounds, however.
Schmuck's trial is set to begin Nov. 16.