Emily Dewey’s family plans legal fight against man they say took advantage of her before she died

MADISON, Wis. - The family of Emily Dewey, the widow of a murdered Mahnomen County sheriff's deputy, knew her time was running out - but they didn't expect they'd need to go to court to get her remains back from a man they claim took advantage of...

MADISON, Wis. – The family of Emily Dewey, the widow of a murdered Mahnomen County sheriff’s deputy, knew her time was running out – but they didn’t expect they’d need to go to court to get her remains back from a man they claim took advantage of her.

Her younger sister, Hannah Rentmeester, told The Forum that her family was in Denver in late January to visit Dewey, who was in declining health and under hospice care as her liver failed. She said they were able to see Dewey on Jan. 29, and told her they’d return the next morning.

But Rentmeester said they weren’t able to get ahold of Dewey until the evening of Jan. 30, long after they had planned to visit.

“She, by that time, was unable to stand or walk without assistance and was unable to even form a sentence,” she said.

Dewey, 33, died of health complications from alcoholism on Jan. 31 in Denver, where she had been living for about a year and a half.

Her late husband, Deputy Chris Dewey, was shot in the head and stomach in February 2009 while investigating a report of a drunken driver in Mahnomen, Minn. He died from complications from his injuries on Aug. 9, 2010.

Rentmeester said she had been confused about not being able to see her sister for much of Jan. 30, though she later found out why – a man had spent those hours with Dewey allegedly making himself the beneficiary of the dying woman.

“That last day was stolen from us,” she said.

That’s why Rentmeester said surviving family members have retained a Denver attorney and are preparing for a civil case seeking to overturn the last will and testament of Dewey, which they allege is fraudulent. Criminal action is also being explored, she said.

Rentmeester, who lives in the Madison, Wis., area, said a mutual friend of the sisters, Kelly Donahue, launched a GoFundMe online fundraiser late Wednesday, Feb. 28, with a goal of raising $18,000.

The GoFundMe page, “Fighting for the Deweys,” says an attorney has estimated it will cost $18,000 or more to contest in court that Dewey’s will is fraudulent. More than $2,000 had been pledged to the campaign by Thursday evening, March 1.

Denver attorney John Griebel confirmed that he’s been retained along with another attorney to work on the case. A lawsuit hasn’t yet been filed, he said, but the paperwork is being prepared.

Rentmeester and Griebel declined to identify the man the family alleges took advantage of Dewey.

Rentmeester said legal action is necessary to overturn Dewey’s will. It was changed, her sister said, during a time when Dewey’s declining physical health, including cognitive impairment from a buildup of ammonia caused by liver failure, would have made it impossible for her to be in a position to make decisions like that.

According to the GoFundMe page written by Donahue, the family friend, Dewey’s family learned that the man claiming to be her boyfriend, who came and went in recent months, resurfaced in late January.

“In the last 24 hours of her life, this man took Em to his attorney and had her make him the executor of her estate. She also changed him to be the beneficiary of the money she received when Christopher was killed. One professional that she dealt on her final day with said that he has never experienced anything like it. He described hearing this man and an attorney coach Em, as she made these incredibly important decisions, in the final hours of her life. I spoke to Em just hours before this and she clearly was not healthy in mind or body,” read the fundraising campaign description.

The situation has caused a “dispute over everything that belonged to Emily,” according to the GoFundMe page. Her remains are in a crematorium, and the man is contesting their release to relatives. The page said the man has also not returned Chris Dewey’s ashes to family members.

Rentmeester said she’s not looking for a financial gain. Instead, she said the situation brought out “the cop in me” – she’s a former officer with the Madison Police Department.

“To me, money and all of that doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s that my sister was victimized on her last day on Earth, and that is not OK.”