ELYRIA — William Dembie Jr. readily confessed to Lorain County Sheriff’s detectives that he had killed his wife, Holly Dembie, in an interview outside of a patrol car after the Aug. 11, 2011, killing.
“I just snapped. I seen red,” Dembie said in a tape of the conversation played Tuesday during the first day of his aggravated murder trial, which county Common Pleas Judge Mark Betleski will decide instead of a jury.
Defense attorney J. Anthony Rich argued during his opening statement that those were the words of man in a sudden in the throes of rage, not the calculating killer prosecutors have portrayed the former Lorain County Jail guard as.
“I did not plan on killing her,” Dembie told detectives.
As he talked with detectives two years ago, Dembie laid out his troubled marriage for them, explaining that he and his wife slept in separate bedrooms and that she would berate him and didn’t want anything to do with him. When he tried to talk to her about their marital woes, she wouldn’t discuss it and accused him of having an affair.
But William Dembie said it was his wife who was having an affair, spending the couple’s money and going out drinking and golfing with friends. He said she told him the only thing that had stopped her from divorcing him was finances.
He defended himself as a good husband who handled the bulk of the housework and was trying to get Holly Dembie to attend counseling.
“I’m probably the most mild-mannered person you’re ever going to meet. Except for tonight,” he told detectives.
Although William Dembie and his attorneys have portrayed Holly Dembie as abusive, her family has denied the allegations and insisted that the slain teacher’s aide was the victim of abuse at the hands of her estranged husband.
William Dembie said after his wife returned from a night out with friends he went into her bedroom to try to talk to her about their problems. The conversation didn’t go well, he said.
Holly Dembie pushed him, he said and he “tagged” her with a blow from his fist. He said he realized he was probably in trouble for that and the pair then went to get her ice and to clean up the blood.
But William Dembie said he still wanted to continue the conversation and went to get a KA-BAR combat knife.
“I just thought if I had a knife she would sit there and listen to what I have to say,” he said.
Holly Dembie then told him that she loved him and understood, but William Dembie said he was skeptical because it was so different from the words she had used before he was armed.
At some point in the argument, Holly Dembie fled from her husband, who pulled her shirt off. William Dembie said he pursued her to the second-floor master bathroom and forced open the door.
He said he grabbed her and pulled off her pants as she tried to climb out the window and stabbed her once before letting her fall.
Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said during his opening statement that William Dembie then went downstairs and outside before stabbing and slashing his wife with the knife, which was found next to her nude body. Cillo argued that Dembie had time to plan the killing as he walked outside.
But Rich argued that Dembie could have sprinted downstairs and outside in just seconds.
After stabbing Holly Dembie, who had a total of eight knife wounds to her torso and neck, William Dembie called the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office on a number he and his fellow corrections officers used to call off sick.
Then-Dispatcher Joi Sanchez answered the 1:30 a.m. phone call in which William Dembie told her there had been a fight at his Cowley Road home in Grafton Township.
When Sanchez pressed him for more information, he replied, “Uh, more like almost a beheading, yeah.”
Sanchez, who now works as a nurse, said she hadn’t been expecting the conversation and struggled to breath.
“When he said what he said with the calmness of ordering a pizza, it threw me off,” she said.
William Dembie told her that he wasn’t a threat to deputies who would respond to the scene and that his guns were locked up. He also told Sanchez “I just couldn’t deal with her (expletive) anymore.”
Sgt. Todd Weegmann said when deputies first arrived, the found Holly Dembie’s body and then called out for William Dembie, who surrendered to him.
His shirt and legs were covered in blood, but his hands were clean. After the killing, Cillo said, William Dembie went back inside the house and laid out clothing, money and books, including Carl Sagan’s “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark,” he would need in jail.
The trial resumes today.