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Former ND Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth's death ruled natural

Nicholas Spaeth

FARGO – A former North Dakota attorney general found dead in his apartment in March died of natural causes, according to a police investigation.

Nicholas Spaeth, 64, who served as attorney general from 1985 to 1992, died from a heart disease, according to an autopsy performed in the wake of his death.

Police found Spaeth dead in his apartment on March 16 after receiving a call that he might be suicidal. Spaeth sent an email to his wife the night before his death that contained nothing but the word “goodbye.”

But a coroner ruled the cause of death as dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart and diminishes its ability to pump blood, according to a report from the Fargo Police Department.

Spaeth had a long and impressive resume that included clerking for a sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice and spending time at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

He also had a history of alcoholism, depression and had been suicidal in the past, his sister told police.

Spaeth and his wife were going through a divorce when he sent his “goodbye” email the night before his death, the police report states. His sister and her husband called police after they tried to check on him at his apartment and got no answer.

“When officers arrived they found Spaeth with a gun that was lying near him and also many empty bottles of alcohol and pills all over the floor,” an investigator wrote in the police report.

Though that evidence could have suggested suicide, there is no indication that Spaeth took his own life “as the cause of death is unrelated to any suicide conditions,” a detective wrote in the report.

There were no signs of a struggle in the apartment. Police don’t believe foul play was involved in Spaeth’s death, said Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel. They closed the case June 24.

Kevin Spaeth, one of the former attorney general’s sons, declined to comment.

A long career

After graduating from Stanford University and Stanford Law School, Spaeth clerked for a judge on the 8th U.S. Circuit of the Court of Appeals. He then spent five years clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White.

He was elected state attorney general in 1984, shortly after entering private practice.

In 1992, after two terms as attorney general, Spaeth ran for governor as a Democrat but lost to Ed Schafer.

Spaeth returned to private practice after his loss, opening a Fargo office for Dorsey & Whitney, a Minneapolis law firm.

At the time of his death, Spaeth was working to set up a startup company in the North Dakota Oil Patch, according to his obituary.

Forum reporter Adrian Glass-Moore contributed to this report.