May 05, 2017 12:52 PM


An Ohio man accused of kidnapping his female neighbor last month and putting her in a pit in his backyard plans to plead not guilty by reason of insanity — though he still maintains he is being set up, his defense attorney tells PEOPLE.

James Hartke, who is representing Dennis Dunn, says he doesn’t know what actually happened late on April 25 and early April 26 in Blanchester, Ohio.

That’s when investigators allege his client — who, according to police, has a history of mental health issues — abducted his adult neighbor.

Blanchester police said she was was found hours later “in a pit dug into the earthen floor of [Dunn’s] shed” in Dunn’s backyard.

The pit was about three-and-a-half feet deep and two feet wide and it had been apparently covered by wood and “heavy objects,” police said. The woman was found after her mother heard her crying for help.

She was removed from the pit and temporarily hospitalized, though she showed no physical trauma, according to police.

Dunn was taken into custody about 8 a.m. that Wednesday and charged with kidnapping, police said.

He appeared in Blanchester court again this week, on Thursday, and remains in the county jail on $1 million bond. Hartke says the case will next be presented to a grand jury for indictment, which will likely happen in a matter of days or weeks.

At that point Dunn will plead not guilty by reason of insanity and Hartke will seek to have him evaluated, he says. He had unsuccessfully sought to have the kidnapping charge thrown out.

Blanchester Police Department

“I don’t know the truth of what occurred between my client and the victim,” Hartke tells PEOPLE. “There are two different stories. I wasn’t there, I don’t know.”

Dunn’s position, according to Hartke, is that he did not kidnap anyone but is rather being set up in order to be arrested.

Dunn’s mental health may be a factor in this case as well: Hartke says his client believes he may have bipolar disorder.

The backyard shed where police allege Dennis Dunn kept a neighbor he had abducted.
Blanchester Police Department

In an unusually public step for law enforcement, the Blanchester police chief has tied Dunn’s alleged actions to what he called a “failure” of Ohio’s mental health care system.

Dunn’s April arrest capped off a recent series of alleged volatile interactions with authorities, they said:

He called police five times over two days in early April claiming he could hear voices and that people had broken into or were attempting to break into his home, where he lived alone. But officers found no one else inside.

He was involuntarily admitted to the local hospital for a psychiatric evaluation following one such call, when police returned to his home because neighbors said he was in his yard with a gun.

He was subsequently disarmed without injury in that incident, police said. However, he was released from the hospital within 24 hours.

Hartke agrees with the police chief’s argument: Had Dunn received better mental health care, he says, “this incident may not have happened at all.”

‘It’s Very Suspect’

Hartke says the woman “went through some traumatic situation here” and did not want his comments misunderstood as blaming her.

But he argues that several parts of her allegations seem odd, such as that she had her cell phone on her in the pit and that police found several people outside Dunn’s shed while she was allegedly abducted and calling for help, but they all waited for officers to retrieve her.

No one went inside to look for her and instead her mother called the police, Hartke says, citing court testimony on Thursday.

“It’s my opinion that she was not being as truthful as she should have been on the stand,” he says. “There is something else going on that I have not yet figured out, and it does not make any sense to me.”

“How she got from her front yard … to the shed, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, no one can say,” Hartke argues.

PEOPLE’s call to the woman’s family was not returned. Prosecutors were not immediately available to comment.

“I don’t know why heavy objects were put on this board. … It’s very suspect,” Hartke says.

He and police both say that Dunn and the woman have known each other for some time, but the exact nature of their relationship and previous involvement remain unclear. The woman testified that she never had a sexual relationship with her accused kidnapper. Dunn disputes that, Hartke says.

In October, she reported “harassing phone calls and text messages from Dunn” but declined to participate in any prosecution, police have said.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

In court, the woman said that at some point in Dunn’s shed, he allegedly forced her into the pit and also told her that he loved her, according to Hartke.

He describes the case as “bizarre.”

“But it’s bizarre on both ends,” he says.

“I’m not saying my client is totally innocent by any means,” Hartke says. “[But] I don’t think he’s guilty of kidnapping. He may be guilty of unlawful restraint.”

You May Like