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Tuesday, April 25, 2006 - Page updated at 10:54 AM

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Local dentist convicted in wife's stabbing death

The Associated Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. — A dentist whose lawyer said mental problems prevented him from forming an intent to kill has been convicted of first-degree murder in the stabbing of his estranged wife with her sewing scissors.

A Clark County Superior Court jury deliberated 14 hours over three days before returning the verdict Monday in the case of James N. Classen, 60, who lived in Orchards and practiced dentistry in Battle Ground before the death of his wife Eveann, 56.

Further deliberations were pending on a move by prosecutors to determine that aggravating factors would justify a prison term longer than the standard range of 22 to 28 years.

Deputy Prosecutor Tony Golik said aggravating factors included the victim's "particular vulnerability" because she was sleeping and "deliberate cruelty" because she was stabbed dozens of times, mostly in the face, while begging for her life, when Classen slipped into the family's home on Feb. 8, 2005.

The couple had been married for 31 years and separated for the last two. She was a part-time teacher of medical office procedures, medical law and ethics, and business management at Mount Hood Community College in nearby Gresham, Ore., for 15 years.

Backed by their sons, Maurice Classen, 28, and Marcel Classen, 26, who testified about their father's history of depression and suicide attempt in 1994, defense lawyer Jon McMullen argued unsuccessfully during the eight-day trial that Classen was in an acute manic phase of bipolar disorder and thus was unable to premeditate the killing.

For that reason, McMullen and the sons claimed, Classen should be convicted of second-degree rather than first-degree murder.

Classen, who did not testify in the trial, told two sheriff's detectives in a videotaped statement that was played in court that he attacked his wife about a month after she told him she wanted to proceed with getting a divorce.

After stabbing her, he returned to his duplex to shower and change, then drove to his cabin in neighboring Skamania County, called a friend and confessed, jurors were told.

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