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Man pleads guilty in Minn. totem pole death

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INTERNATIONAL FALLS, Minn. -- A man accused of murdering his wife with a totem pole the two were carving pleaded guilty Wednesday to second-degree murder.

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Carl Chester Muggli of Ray had been charged with premeditated first-degree murder and intentional second-degree murder in the Nov. 26, 2010, death of his wife, Linda, 61, who died of severe head trauma when the log the couple had been carving for a totem pole landed on her. He has been in custody on $2 million bail.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 4, according to Koochiching County Attorney Jeffrey Naglosky.

His murder trial was scheduled to begin Monday. Because of pretrial publicity, the trial was going to be held at the Beltrami County Courthouse in Bemidji, 114 miles southwest of the Koochiching County Courthouse in International Falls. The prosecutors did not oppose the defense request that the trial be moved. Minneapolis defense attorney Charles Hawkins represents Muggli. The case was being prosecuted by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Robert Plesha with assistance from Naglosky.

The Koochiching County Sheriff’s Office began investigating Linda Muggli’s death the day she died. Six months later, Carl Muggli was arrested in Texas, where he and his late wife spent part of their winters and where he hunted wild boars. He initially was charged with her second-degree murder. A grand jury was convened in Koochiching County and an indictment for premeditated first-degree murder was returned.

Carl and Linda Muggli were married 24 years and had become internationally recognized for their work carving totem poles on their 20-acre property near Ray in Koochiching County.

Charges were brought against Muggli after investigators learned of an Alabama woman who allegedly carried on intimate and romantic Facebook conversations with him. The woman told a Koochiching County sheriff’s deputy that she was on the phone with Muggli on the day his wife died and she heard him arguing with his wife about getting a divorce. The woman said Muggli called her back 30 minutes later and told her an accident had happened and emergency medical technicians were working on his wife.

A court document alleges that on the day of the incident, Carl Muggli told a Koochiching County sheriff’s deputy that the totem pole wasn’t lying level in a cradle as they worked on it, so he placed two or three two-by-fours under the pole to keep it level. He said they were turning the pole with a hook when it suddenly fell to the floor on top of his wife. He said he had his back to her and couldn’t see how it happened. When he turned, the pole was lying across her chest and shoulder. He also said that one of the arms on the cradle that held the pole was across her neck. He couldn’t explain how she wound up under the pole.

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