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Montevideo, Minn., man found competent in murder of woman

MONTEVIDEO -- Court proceedings are moving forward again in the first-degree murder case against Darek Jon Nelson, 25, of Montevideo.

On Oct. 12, District Judge Dwayne Knutsen confirmed an order finding that Nelson was mentally competent to stand trial in the fatal stabbing of his co-worker, Vinessa Lozano, 18.

Lozano was killed on Jan. 13 at the Pizza Ranch in Montevideo.

The original co-mpetency order was issued April 2 after review of a mental health evaluation performed at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center by a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Robin Ballina. A hearing on the charges scheduled for May 25 was delayed while the defense submitted the evaluation for review by its own experts. The defense did not file an objection to the original evaluation, according to recent court documents.

A grand jury previously indicted Nelson on first-degree, premeditated murder, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release.

The state has also filed second-degree murder and second-degree assault charges against him. One of the assault charges alleges he threatened a co-worker who had attempted to intervene in the stabbing.

The state charges that Nelson stabbed Lozano as she left work at the Pizza Ranch. He had concealed a knife in a hooded sweatshirt at work and told investigators that he planned to kill Lozano if she continued to reject his interest in her, the criminal complaint alleges.

On the night of the fatal stabbing, Nelson had placed a note on Lozano's shoulder stating "I love you.'' She crumpled the note and threw it away, according to statements a witness gave investigators.

Lozano suffered 33 knife wounds and was pronounced dead at the Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital shortly after being transported there.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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