The death of a Shakopee man at the hands of police over the weekend was the final stage in a deeply troubled marriage headed for divorce, court records show.
Jennifer Denmark accused her husband of an assault in September serious enough to make her feel she could be killed. But "there is a history well before then," her attorney, Kristine Anderson, said Monday. "It has been volatile for the entire duration. She tells me, 'It was 17 years and I still love him and I am grieving for him.'"
A long-delayed pretrial hearing in a criminal case against Gordon William (Bill) Denmark, 36, for assault and other charges was scheduled for March 3. On Friday, Shakopee police were summoned to the home where Jennifer Denmark was living, only to hear of another assault, from which she had escaped and after which her estranged husband, who police said was carrying a knife, had fled.
With a search for him still on, they returned with her to the house on Saturday and found signs of a break-in. Police told her to stay in the car while they went through the home, her attorney said. Police say they found the estranged husband hiding in an attic space off a bedroom. They ordered him to drop a knife he was holding, they said, Tasered him without effect and shot him to death when he continued to wield the knife.
Shakopee police did not return calls seeking comment about the shooting on Monday. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating.
Bill Denmark's attorney, James Hanvik, said Monday that Jennifer Denmark cooked up the original charges to remove her husband from a troubled marriage, saying she spent time with him after she leveled the assault charges.
"You'd think it would be difficult to put aside if someone were so traumatized and frightened," he said.
But it does not seem possible, he conceded, to dispute that his client turned up at her place over the weekend and was carrying a knife.
"That is just not anything that I would have believed he would have done," Hanvik said of his client. "When I talked to him he was resigned. He may not have wanted the divorce, but concluded it was best for all concerned that he and Jen go their separate ways and make sure the [couple's three] kids are OK."
Denmark's parents, from Tennessee, are concerned about the events over the weekend, Hanvik said, and so is he. "If an unarmed civilian can fend off a knife attack, why do police officers open fire on this guy?"
It was much more complicated than that, Jennifer Denmark's attorney said.
"She was able to get away because he was distracted. When he barged in unannounced, he saw their daughter and ordered her to go upstairs to her bed. He proceeded to wield two separate knives and basically had my client in a very difficult position. That little girl [age 9] had the fortitude to put on shoes and sneak past them out the door. He heard the door. That distracted him. He knew she was leaving, and he followed her. That was what allowed my client to escape."
It is true, she said, as Hanvik says, that Jennifer Denmark at one point last fall agreed to lift a no-contact order. But that was done to allow him easier access to his children, who loved him, Anderson said.
"It is true that in the past there had been divorce proceedings and then reconciliation, like many, many women victims of abuse. But after that assault, there was no hope of reconciliation."
It's all deeply complicated, she said. "His children love him. His wife loves him. His family loves him. We need not disparage him if it's not necessary. At this point we are focusing on the welfare of the family and moving forward out of this tragedy rather than stay mired in accusations about each other.
"She is willing to allow bits and pieces of this to be shared in hopes that her story could bring attention to women who are victims of domestic abuse, and might impact one other person. How important was it, for example, that she and the children had an escape plan like the one that saved her?"
David Peterson • 952-882-9023