Witnesses detail Algene Vossen's dementia, aggression as commitment considered for Willmar homicide suspect
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.
WILLMAR — Whether the man accused of the brutal killing of Mae Herman in her Willmar home in 1974 should be committed to a secure state facility as a mentally ill and dangerous person is a decision now before the Kandiyohi County District Court in Willmar.
Forensic psychologists, a family caregiver and social workers were among those who testified Friday as District Judge Stephen Wentzell presided over a civil commitment hearing for Algene Leeland Vossen, 81.
Vossen was charged in July 2020 with second-degree murder in the death of 73-year-old Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman after a cold case investigation by the Willmar Police Department. He was found not competent to stand trial by the District Court in November 2021.
In the competency ruling, Judge Wentzell found that Vossen has significant memory and other cognitive impairments that hinder his ability to consult with counsel or recall facts in the case.
Testimony on Friday made clear that Vossen suffers from dementia and that his health decline has been dramatic in the past two years.
A bearded and frail-looking Vossen watched the virtual hearing from his hospital bed at Unity Point Health in Des Moines, Iowa, where he has been under care since June under an emergency order by the state of Iowa. He requires a 24-hour “telesitter,” or monitored camera, that alerts staff if he attempts to leave his bed. It’s for his own safety, hospital staff testified.
Vossen is barely ambulatory, “and poses no threat to anyone,” attorney Kent Marshall, representing Vossen, told the court at the start of the hearing. He described Vossen’s aggressive actions as those of an elderly dementia patient.
The Kandiyohi County Attorney’s Office filed for the civil commitment and is asking the court to find him mentally ill and dangerous. Assistant county attorneys Kristen Pierce and Rachel Molsberry called witnesses for the county’s argument that Vossen poses a safety risk to others.
The county attorneys elicited testimony about past aggressive behaviors by Vossen. They include the alleged murder in 1974 when Herman’s body was found with 38 stab wounds to her chest, abdomen and neck, as well as unspecified marks under her chin.
DNA in a blood spot found on the sleeve of Herman’s white sweater matched that of DNA taken from Vossen as part of the cold case investigation, according to testimony by Willmar Police Detective Sgt. Chad Nelson and Ellen Sampers, a forensic scientist with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Vossen has also committed other overt acts that make him a safety risk, according to the County Attorney’s Office staff.
His niece, who had cared for him in her home in Des Moines, testified that he had attempted to strike her with a cane before she turned him over for care at the Unity Point Hospital. He was prone to leaving the residence and wandering, according to her testimony.
Staff at the hospital described incidents of verbal and physical aggression by Vossen. They said he has used vulgar language against staff, and has tossed items and attempted to kick and strike them, according to the testimony. They have used medications injected into his muscles to calm him during some of the incidents.
Vossen is “totally disconnected from reality” due to his dementia, according to testimony by Dr. Paul Reitman, a forensic psychologist in private practice. Vossen lacks insight into his mental impairment, and accepts his delusions as reality, Reitman testified.
The loss of cognitive ability explains his aggressive behavior toward hospital staff.
“He feels like he is being tortured and victimized,” said the psychologist as to Vossen’s anger at being kept at the Unity Point Health, and his inability to understand why.
Reitman testified that he believes Vossen poses a “very high likelihood for future violence” and believes he should be placed in a secure facility.
Dr. Rachel Hulkonen, a forensic psychologist in private practice, testified that Vossen has an unspecified neurocognitive disorder and agreed that Vossen does not have insight into his impairment.
She also attributed his aggressive behavior to his inability to understand what is going on. But she pointed to his declining mental and physical abilities, and as a result, said she did not believe that he posed a risk of causing serious harm to others.
Social workers at Unity Point Hospital have been searching without success for another facility to care for Vossen. They believe he requires full-time, custodial care.
Other facilities they have contacted have been unwilling to care for him. The alleged murder, his current aggressive behaviors and the fact that most facilities lack the 24/7 monitoring capabilities that Unity Point has are factors in the unwillingness of other facilities to accept him, they said.
The attorneys will submit written arguments summarizing their positions to the court by Dec. 19, and will have until Dec. 23 to offer any responses. Judge Wentzell left the matter open to allow additional evidence to be submitted along with the written arguments.
The County Attorney's Office has filed its intent to prosecute Vossen on the murder charge should his competency be restored.