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Trial in totem-pole death moved to Bemidji

Carl and Linda Muggli are seen in this undated file photo with one of the totem poles they carved on their property in Koochiching County. (File photo courtesy of Carl Muggli)

If the 17-foot log totem pole-in-progress that Carl Muggli is accused of using to slay his wife is introduced into evidence as a murder weapon, it probably will have to be transported from International Falls to Bemidji.

After ruling last month that prejudicial pretrial publicity against Muggli required that the case be moved to another county to obtain a fair and impartial trial, State District Court Judge Charles LeDuc has now ordered that the trial be held at the Beltrami County Courthouse in Bemidji, 114 miles southwest of the Koochiching County Courthouse in International Falls.

Muggli, 50, is 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.

The case is being prosecuted by Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Robert Plesha with assistance from Koochiching County Attorney Jeffrey Naglosky.

The prosecutors did not oppose the defense request that the trial be moved. Minneapolis defense attorney Charles Hawkins represents Muggli.

LeDuc granted the prosecution's request that Muggli's bail be increased to $2 million. He remains in custody.

The trial is scheduled to start Jan. 14. Naglosky said the prosecution and defense will work on a questionnaire to present to prospective jurors during the selection process. He anticipates the jury selection and trial to last about 2½ weeks.

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.

Three totem poles they carved were used in the Indian Village section of Princess Diana's Memorial Garden in Kensington Gardens, London.

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.

Carl Muggli told the News Tribune less than two weeks after the incident: "All I can say is that we were having a wonderful day. The totem we were working on was progressing wonderful. I mean, it was just coming real good, and we were laughing and joking and having a great conversation, just ... and then it was over."

When asked if he was going to stop creating totem poles, Carl Muggli responded: "No, no. Linda would not allow that. We both told each other we're going to die carving totem poles. I'm sorry, but I have to carry on."