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A northern Minnesota artist admitted in court Wednesday that he fatally crushed his wife with a 17-foot-tall totem pole they were carving, a murder his accusers say was fueled by infidelity and deceit.

Carl Muggli, 51, pleaded guilty in Koochiching County District Court to killing 61-year-old Linda Muggli in November 2010 at the couple's home south of International Falls. The husband had tried to convince authorities that the 700-pound pole accidentally fell out of a cradle and onto his wife of 24 years.

But about a week after Linda Muggli's death, a tipster told the Sheriff's Office about Facebook entries between Muggli and a woman in Alabama that were "very intimate in nature." Investigators also reported that they were unable to recreate the alleged accident.

"This whole thing is a tragic occurrence," defense attorney Charles Hawkins said Wednesday. He explained that his client chose to plead guilty to second-degree unintentional murder because "he did not want to put the family, his family or himself through any more misery."

Muggli had been charged with first-degree premeditated murder and second-degree intentional murder and his trial had been scheduled to begin Monday.

He remains in the county jail awaiting sentencing on Feb. 4.

Hawkins said Muggli faces a sentence of 12 1/2 to 15 years in prison, with the possibility of supervised release for the last third of that time.

On Nov. 26, 2010, a sheriff's deputy called to the couple's garage found Linda Muggli on the floor, bleeding from the mouth but still breathing.

She was taken to a hospital, where she died.

Later that day, Carl Muggli told a deputy that a totem pole the couple had been working on fell out of its cradle and onto his wife.

Agent found messages

A state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) agent reviewed Muggli's computer and uncovered Facebook messages between him and the woman that stretched from more than a month before Linda Muggli's death to a few days afterward.

"I love you with all my being. ... I want us together to live our lives as we seek. For I am with you. I am yours. We are one!" Muggli wrote to the woman he called "Eveningstar" the day before his wife's death.

He also began sending e-mails to real estate companies in Texas, looking for a new place to live. On Nov. 30, a few hours after his wife's memorial service, Muggli sent the woman an online link for property in Palestine, Texas. He later moved to Stockdale.

A month after Linda Muggli died, sheriff's deputies and an agent with the BCA went to the Muggli home in an effort to re-create the circumstances of the death as Carl Muggli had outlined. Each effort failed.

Linda and Carl Muggli were married in 1986. They lived quietly in a log home south of International Falls in the town of Ray.

Via the Internet, they made a name for themselves, carving and selling totem poles to Six Flags Theme Park, Warner Brothers Television and the Princess Diana Memorial Children's Park in London, according to their website.

Since Linda Muggli's death, the website, which remains active, has read, "She passed while doing what she loved."

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482