OAKLAND -- A man who authorities say brutally attacked his wife, then lied to police about how she died, was arraigned Thursday, even as his attorney contended that the charge was unwarranted and that the woman had fallen down a staircase to her death.

Joseph Bontempo Jr., a 53-year-old locksmith, was charged Tuesday with killing his wife of 12 years, Laurie Wolfe, 57, an Oakland businesswoman who owned the house where the couple lived.

Police say Bontempo killed the woman, who he'd been in a relationship with for 20 years, in a brutal physical attack in their upscale Oakland hills home on July 6.

Police did not release information about the attack until Wednesday, after Bontempo was charged with murder by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office. The death was originally listed as suspicious but later classified as a homicide after an autopsy showed Wolfe's injuries couldn't have happened in a fall, officials said.

Bontempo's attorney, Ed Swanson, disputed prosecutors' claims Thursday outside Alameda County Superior Court.

"This is not a homicide," he said. "It's a tragic loss for my client, who lost his wife and partner of 20 years. It's a loss for everyone who knew and loved Laurie and he intends to fight this case until he's vindicated."


Advertisement

Swanson said Bontempo has declined to speak about the death from Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where he is being held without bail. They will be back in court on Monday ¿to enter a plea and ask for Bontempo to be granted bail.

Asked how his client is doing, Swanson said, "It's a hard time."

Police said in a 911 call on the night of the slaying, Bontempo said he and his wife were alone in their home on the 6700 block of Saroni Drive. He told dispatchers that "his wife had slipped on the stairs of their residence," according to court documents. He said he did not see her fall but found her at the bottom of the staircase.

Investigators interviewed Bontempo and found his story of what happened inconsistent with the physical evidence, though all of the evidence has not been made public.

The coroner's office determined last week that Wolfe's injuries were from blunt force trauma that couldn't have happened during a fall and classified the case as a homicide. Police would not say how Wolfe was assaulted.

Bontempo was arrested Tuesday on Crane Way in Montclair while driving away from a friend's house. When investigators tried to interview following his arrest Tuesday, he declined to talk, police said.

Wolfe was the owner of Ace Machine Co. in East Oakland, having taken over leadership of the company three years ago after the death of her father, who had founded the business in 1956.

Police said that since her death, the business has closed.

Police are not commenting about a motive.

Bontempo and Wolfe met in a photography class 20 years ago and were together eight years before they married in 2002. They have no children. Police said they had not been called to the Saroni Drive home before for any domestic disturbance reports.

Follow Kristin J. Bender at Twitter.com/kjbender.