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Zumbrota man loses appeal in hammer attack

ST. PAUL — A Zumbrota man convicted of trying to kill a romantic rival with a hammer has lost his appeal to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Jonathan Lee Closner, now 28, pleaded guilty in April 2013 to second-degree attempted murder-with intent. In exchange for the plea, the court dismissed two counts of first-degree attempted murder and one count each of first-degree assault; second-degree assault and first-degree burglary, all felonies. One count of misdemeanor domestic abuse also was dismissed.

Closner was sentenced in July 2013 to more than 17 years for the attack. The appeal followed in October.

The state sentencing guidelines called for a presumptive sentence of 136 to 196 months. The upward departure — in this case, 212 months — is the result of four aggravating factors, the court document says, including the cruelty of the crime, the victim's vulnerability and severe personal injury, and the fact that Closner was violating an order for protection while committing the crime.

The upward departure was the basis of the appeal.

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According to the criminal complaint, Closner entered the Zumbrota home of his estranged wife about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 14, 2013, where he found evidence that another man was in the residence.

Closner told investigators that he took a hammer out of a tool box near the front door and went to the back bedroom, where he found his wife and the man in bed.

Closner admitted in court that he hit the 20-year-old victim in the head with the hammer multiple times in an attempt to kill him as he slept.

After the attack, Closner left the home, threw the hammer into the woods near the residence, then went to a business in Zumbrota where his mother works. Police arrested him there; the hammer was recovered a few hours later.

Closner's estranged wife told investigators that Closner still had keys to their home, though he had been living with his mother since their separation. She said the night of the incident, Closner put his hands over her mouth, pulled her off the bed onto the floor, then hit the man three to five times in the head with the hammer.

The victim was taken by medical helicopter to Mayo Clinic Hospital-Saint Marys Campus in Rochester, where doctors had to remove part of his skull, amputate part of his brain and replace part of his skull with a titanium prosthesis.

The man spent two months in the hospital, two months in a rehabilitation center and attends "occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy three times a week for three hours a day ... so he can learn to talk again, read again, move and use his right arm," the appeals decision says.

The judges discussed the victim's particular vulnerability "as an aggravating factor to support" the longer sentence.

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The decision reads, in part, "It is undisputed that (the victim) was asleep at the time Closner attacked him. Because (he) was asleep ... he had no opportunity to react to Closner entering the home, approaching him and repeatedly pounding his head with a hammer."

Only one aggravating factor is needed to support the upward sentencing departure. The vulnerability was sufficient, the judges ruled last month.

Court records indicate that Closner's wife had applied for an order for protection against him, which was granted and served three days before the attack.

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