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52 months prison time for man, 35, in the death of his wife

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News Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/lemckeandrew4c1_5.jpg?itok=gEQjM3CM
West Central Tribune
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52 months prison time for man, 35, in the death of his wife
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

BENSON -- Andrew Lemcke, 35, will serve up to 52 months in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of his wife.

District Ju-dge Jon Stafs-holt sentenced Lemcke on Monday morning in Benson. It's the maximum possible under sentencing guidelines in place when Nichole Riley-Lemcke, 26, was fatally shot in their Appleton home on Sept. 12, 2004.

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The judge also ordered Lemcke to pay a $10,000 fine and fees, and to make restitution for his wife's funeral expenses of $8,547.

The judge allowed credit for 89 days he has served in jail.

A Pope County jury found Lemcke guilty of second-degree manslaughter - culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk. He was found not guilty of first-degree premeditated murder and not guilty of second-degree intentional murder. The March 11 verdict followed two weeks of testimony.

Prior to issuing the sentence, Judge Stafsholt told the defendant that he had not accepted responsibility for his crime, had showed no remorse, and had not issued an apology to his wife's family or offered to pay for her funeral expenses.

Stafsholt also told Lemcke that he could be released from prison for good behavior after serving two-thirds of the sentence, but that he would remain on supervised probation for the remainder of the 17Zc months and could be returned to prison for any violations.

Lemcke declined to comment prior to the sentence. Clad in a blue jail jumpsuit and wearing shackles, he showed no emotions as the sentence was issued.

His parents and other family members held back tears. Family members declined comment after the sentencing, although one man who would not identify himself said that people "shouldn't believe all the rumors."

Defense attorney Neil Tangen said afterward that Lemcke could appeal the sentence, but that the decision was up to him.

The defense had asked the court for a lesser sentence than what sentencing guidelines recommend -- what's called a downward departure -- and brought Dr. Rick Ascano, a forensic psychologist from Breckenridge, to the stand on Monday. Ascano testified that his evaluation of the defendant found that he had an "extremely low" probability for future violent or aggressive behavior.

The psychologist's testimony also opened up a round of questioning by attorneys for both sides that revisited many of the issues that had been presented during the trial, and some that had not.

Prosecuting attorney Al Zdrazil with the Minnesota Attorney General's office and the victim's mother and father, Kim and Gary Riley, asked the court to impose the maximum sentence. Kim Riley told the court how difficult the death of her only daughter has been on her and other family members, including Nichole's three young children. She asked the court to hold Lemcke "accountable for his actions" and voiced the family's belief that Lemcke was guilty of murder in the fatal shooting.

"I just know in my heart that Andrew is responsible for what happened that morning," she told the court.

The victim's family believes that the jury who heard the case was split. At one point during arguments in court at the sentencing, the prosecutor suggested that the jury's verdict "could have been a compromise," although Zdrazil quickly added: "We do not know ... why the jury reached the verdict it did."

Six of the 12 jurors who had deliberated the case attended the hearing. They described the case as an "emotional roller coaster" for them.

Nichole Riley-Lemcke died from a gunshot fired at close range under her chin. The defense argued that the gun accidentally discharged as Lemcke tried to wrestle the handgun from his wife. He testified that she had brought the handgun into the living room where they had been sleeping and fired a shot into the wall before he acted.

The prosecution argued that the shooting occurred after the two argued: Lemcke was upset that his wife was planning to leave him, and she had just returned early that morning after having a sexual encounter with a lover.

Kim and Gary Riley said after the sentencing that they considered the sentence to be the best possible under the circumstances, describing it as "bittersweet."

"It's been a long and unpleasant journey for us, for our family and everybody, but justice was served as well as it could be today," said Kim Riley.

The case went before two grand juries before it reached trial. Gary and Kim Riley had continued to press for the criminal charges after the first grand jury had returned no bill of indictment. At one point they had filed a wrongful death lawsuit in civil court.

The couple expressed relief to have the legal proceedings over, but said the hurt from the loss of their daughter would remain forever. As they have done each of the past five years, the two said they would observe their daughter's birthday on May 11 by visiting her gravesite. She would have been 32 this year.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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