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Judge considers final arguments in commitment of Algene Vossen, suspect in 1974 Willmar homicide

A district court judge in Kandiyohi County will decide whether Algene Vossen should be committed as a mentally ill and dangerous person. He was found not competent to stand trial on a second-degree murder charge for the 1974 stabbing of a Willmar woman in her home.

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WILLMAR — Final arguments have been submitted and District Judge Stephen Wentzell has taken under advisement whether or not the man accused of a 1974 killing in Willmar should be civilly committed to a secure state facility as a mentally ill and dangerous person.

The Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office is asking the court to commit Algene Leeland Vossen, 81, who currently is being cared for at the Unity Point Health Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.

VOSSEN, ALGENE LEELAND
Algene Leeland Vossen Photo via Minnehaha County (S.D.) Jail

The county filed for the civil commitment after Wentzell ruled in Kandiyohi County District Court that Vossen was not competent to stand trial on a charge of second-degree murder.

A cold case investigation by the Willmar Police Department led to the charge in July 2020 in the death of Mabel "Mae" Boyer Herman, age 74, in her Willmar home. Her body was discovered Jan. 27, 1974, with 38 stab wounds to her chest, neck and left torso.

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Forensic psychologists, social workers and a family caregiver were among those offering testimony in a civil commitment hearing for Algene Vossen, charged with murder two years ago following a cold case investigation of a 1974 homicide in Willmar. He has been found incompetent to stand trial due to memory and other cognitive impairments that hinder his ability to consult with counsel or recall facts in the case.
The Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office has filed a petition for the civil commitment of Algene Leeland Vossen, 81. He is hospitalized in Des Moines, Iowa, and has no permanent address. He was found incompetent to stand trial on a murder charge in the 1974 stabbing death of Mae Herman.
Algene Vossen, 80, is charged with second-degree murder in the 1974 killing of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman in Willmar. A District Court judge has ruled him incompetent to stand trial and ordered screening for civil commitment.
Algene Vossen, 79, is charged with second-degree murder in the 1974 killing of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman in Willmar. A competency hearing was held Sept. 10, where multiple doctors gave conflicting reports after a competency evaluation declared him unable to assist in his defense.

First Assistant County Attorney Kristen Pierce of Kandiyohi County pointed to evidence linking Vossen to the homicide in her final written arguments to the court in seeking the commitment.

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Pierce and defense attorney Kent Marshall agree that Vossen is mentally ill.

Testimony at a Nov. 18 hearing on the civil commitment included testimony by medical professionals that he suffers from dementia and a major depressive disorder that impair his judgment, behavior and capacity to recognize reality, to reason or to understand, according to the filing by Pierce.

In order to commit Vossen, the court must determine whether he presents a clear danger to the safety of others. An essential element in determining whether someone is dangerous is a finding that the person engaged in an overt act causing or attempting to cause serious physical harm to another, Pierce stated.

The killing of Herman is obviously an overt act of harm by Vossen, according to Pierce. She pointed to evidence submitted to the court showing that a blood stain on Herman’s sweater that was analyzed as part of the cold case investigation matched the DNA profile of Vossen.

“There is simply no other explanation for how Vossen’s blood was on the sweater of Ms. Herman at the time of her death, other than he killed her,” Pierce stated.

Vossen also has a long criminal history and convictions for crimes including window peeping, burglary, motor vehicle theft and assault in the years 1955 to 1974.

Pierce also pointed to testimony by caregivers at the Nov. 18 hearing about Vossen’s aggressive behavior toward them in recent months. They included incidents of attempting to kick care workers, vulgar language directed at them, and an incident in which he attempted to swing a cane at his niece.

Defense attorney Kent Marshall argued to the court that Vossen is hardly ambulatory and, as a result, represents no physical threat to anyone. He attributes his client's behavior to mental illness.

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“If Algene Vossen is found to be mentally ill and dangerous, then I believe that it would (be) accurate to say that virtually every dementia and Alzheimer patient in the state of Minnesota would qualify for that label,” stated the attorney in the opening of his final written argument.

The defense attorney charges that the state is seeking the commitment for “purposes of gaining an advantage in placement.”

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The state is seeking to commit him to the state hospital in St. Peter, where an evaluation would likely lead to his placement in the forensic nursing home there.

Vossen is largely confined to a bed at the Unity Point Health Hospital after being placed there by an emergency order by the state of Iowa. An electronic monitor alerts staff if he attempts to leave his bed.

He does not understand why he is there, and considers himself a hostage, according to testimony at the November commitment hearing.

Staff at Unity Point Health testified at that time that they have been unsuccessful in repeated efforts to find a secure facility willing to accept him.

Judge Wentzell took the commitment case under advisement on Dec. 23. A decision is expected within a 90-day time frame.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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