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Anamoose priest choked with speaker wire was left for dead

Father Robert Wapenski, pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Anamoose, N.D. Catholic Diocese of Fargo / Special to The Forum1 / 2
Chad Lagear2 / 2

ANAMOOSE, N.D. — The Rev. Robert Wapenski was beaten on the face, head and back, and speaker wire was used by his alleged assailant in an attempt to choke him to death, according to an affidavit released as part of McHenry County District Court documents unsealed in the case Friday, Feb. 9.

Chad Vincent Legare, the Alexandria, Minn., man facing charges in the attack on Wapenski, is alleged to have hidden himself in an office in the rectory in Anamoose, N.D., where Wapenski worked as pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church, according to the affidavit by Special Agent Craig Zachmeier of the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Legare allegedly strangled Wapenski inside the priest's home early on the morning of Jan. 30, according to court records. Wapenski was found about 7:45 a.m., covered in blood and in need of aid, the affidavit indicates.

Legare was arrested Feb. 5 and is charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and burglary, all felonies. At his first court appearance on Thursday, Feb. 8, Legare accused Wapenski of being a rapist.

Legare had also filed a complaint with Minot police accusing Wapenski of recently sexually assaulting a woman who lived in Minot. Legare had told police that Wapenski had been raping the woman for about 10 months. However, in speaking with investigators, the woman denied Legare's allegations that she had been sexually assaulted, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit describing the investigation is heavily redacted, with Wapenski's name, the name of the potential sex assault victim, and some place names removed. Still, it's possible to determine many of Wapenski's statements and some place names using information released early on in the investigation by law enforcement and the Catholic Diocese of Fargo.

Wapenski was interviewed by Zachmeier, BCI Special Agent Robert Cummings and Wells County Sheriff Christopher Kluth at St. Aloisius Medical Center in Harvey, N.D.

According to the affidavit:

When officers began documenting Wapenski's injuries, they found deep ligature marks his neck.

Wapenski told officers that computer speaker wire had been used to choke him and that he found the wires balled up around his neck when he awoke.

Wapenski told the officers that his assailant "tried to kill him, and after he lost consciousness the assailant obviously should have taken his pulse because he did not die and was still alive."

The officers found that Wapenski's face and head contained most of the cuts and contusions he had suffered in the attack, including the need for stitches over his right eye, bloody lips, swollen left jaw and other facial injuries. Wapenski told officers that he had been struck multiple times in the head and back.

Investigators learned from St. Aloisius staff that Wapenski had at least an idea of who attacked him. The medical staff said Wapenski had volunteered that "he (the assailant) had been after me for a while," and "he (the assailant) drove a long way to do this," and "he (the assailant) wore gloves."

The affidavit indicates that Wapenski fought his attacker and managed to bite his left hand.

It was in an office area of an unidentified church building in Anamoose, where investigators found evidence of a struggle, according to the affidavit.

"There was pooled blood on the floor consistent with someone laying there for an unknown period of time, most likely while unconscious. There was also evidence based on the blood spatter that there was a strike from an up to down motion, with the person being struck being on the floor," the affidavit reads.

Zachmeier found that the lights for the office, normally activated by a switch, were not working. Wapenski told the officers that it was dark in the office that morning and when he went to turn on the lights, that was when he was attacked. Zachmeier determined that a chain on/off switch on a ceiling fan light in the room had been turned to the off position.

The Fargo Diocese issued a statement Friday, saying Legare brought an accusation of inappropriate behavior to their attention in an online report in December 2017 and in person in January 2018, but Legare didn't identify the victim or priest.

"The Diocese encouraged Mr. Legare to have the alleged victim report the incident or to make a report himself," the statement read. "A few days later Mr. Legare revealed for the first time that these allegations involved Father Robert Wapenski and the alleged victim."

Asked why the Diocese didn't file a report with police when made aware of the alleged misconduct, Diocese spokesman Paul Braun said Legare was told to contact police.

Braun said the situation involved adults with firsthand knowledge of the alleged crime who should report it. Braun said the Diocese complied with all mandatory reporting laws.

The statement said Legare told the Diocese Jan. 16 that he "made a mistake with all this." The Diocese also said the alleged victim on Jan. 22 "denied all allegations against Fr. Wapenski to the Diocese."

Recently, a reporter from the Alexandria Echo Press, a Forum Communications newspaper, visited Legare's home in Alexandria, where a woman who answered the door said she's the connection between Legare and Wapenski.

The woman said she met Legare at a Minot, N.D., restaurant in November and they started dating. The woman said she and the priest knew each other well.

Helmut Schmidt

Helmut Schmidt was born in Germany, but grew up in the Twin Cities area, graduating from Park High School of Cottage Grove. After serving a tour in the U.S. Army, he attended the University of St. Thomas in St Paul, Minn., graduating in 1984 with a degree in journalism. He then worked at the Albert Lea (Minn.) Tribune and served as managing editor there for three years. He joined The Forum in October 1989, working as a copy editor until 2000. Since then, he has worked as a reporter on several beats, including K-12 education, Fargo city government, criminal justice, and military affairs. He is currently one of The Forum's business reporters.

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