December 20, 2014

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William Dembie murder trial begins today

William Dembie Jr. of Grafton Township appears in court in 2011. His trial in the death of his wife begins today. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

William Dembie Jr. of Grafton Township appears in court in 2011. His trial in the death of his wife begins today. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — Lawyers for William Dembie Jr. will argue that he killed his wife, Holly Dembie, in a fit of rage. The former corrections officer’s aggravated murder trial starts today.

The question is not whether William Dembie killed his wife, but rather his state of mind at the time, defense attorney J. Anthony Rich said Monday.

“As soon as they interviewed him, he said he saw red and snapped,” Rich said. “That’s manslaughter, not prior calculation and design.”

Prosecutors have argued that Dembie, 45, had a chance to contemplate killing his wife as he descended from the second floor of their Grafton Township home and went outside, where he stabbed his wife twice in the neck and slit her throat twice on Aug. 11, 2011.

The investigation alleges that Dembie attacked Holly Dembie inside the house and she plunged out of a second-story bathroom window while trying to flee. He then allegedly went outside and attacked her with a combat knife, which later was found near her body.

William Dembie then called the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office and reported that he had killed his wife, describing it as “almost a beheading.” He was covered in blood and surrendered to deputies when they arrived.

Soon after his client was charged, Rich suggested that William Dembie had been abused by Holly Dembie, whose family has vehemently denied those allegations, arguing instead that William Dembie was the abuser.

County Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski ruled Monday that he wouldn’t allow a defense expert to testify that William Dembie was a victim of battered-spouse syndrome.

“There has been no evidence submitted to the Court in the report that Defendant’s spouse had previously assaulted him or that he had a belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm,” Betleski wrote.

Rich said that ruling wasn’t a surprise based on Ohio law, but he said the facts in the case support a charge of voluntary manslaughter because William Dembie killed in sudden fit of rage. He said the couple had been arguing in the bedroom, including about whether Holly Dembie was having an affair, when the argument turned violent.

Betleski ruled that he wouldn’t bar the defense expert from testifying about William Dembie’s state of mind at the time of the killing because he didn’t know what evidence would come out during the trial.

Rich also said that his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder based on his military service and time spent working as a guard at the Lorain County Jail, where he is now being held as an inmate.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will declined to comment on the eve of trial.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.