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Willmar cold case murder defendant to undergo competency evaluation

A judge in Kandiyohi County granted a motion by the laywer of Algene Vossen to have the 79-year-old murder suspect undergo a competency evaluation after concerns about possible dementia were raised.

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WILLMAR — A motion by Algene Leland Vossen to undergo a competency evaluation was granted Tuesday morning by Eighth Judicial District Judge Stephen Wentzell during a hearing at the Kandiyohi County Courthouse.

Vossen, 79, is charged with second-degree murder in the 1974 killing of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman in Willmar. He was charged last year after a Willmar Police Department cold case team was able to connect Vossen to the homicide after matching his DNA with a sweater Herman was wearing the night she was killed.

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

Vossen, represented by Kent Marshall, of Barrett, appeared at the hearing Tuesday, held via Zoom video meeting software, on his bed. Vossen was released from jail in October and is currently in Iowa on medical furlough.

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Dec. 4, 2020: Algene Vossen, suspect in a 1974 Willmar murder, released from jail and on medical furlough in Iowa Algene Vossen, 73, was released into the care of his niece, Janette Sanders, Oct. 27, to seek medical treatment for various mental and physical disabilities, including dementia. 
In the motion, Marshall cited concerns with Vossen's mental and physical health, particularly that Marshall believes Vossen suffers from dementia "that prohibits him from entering into meaningful discussions with his attorney for purposes of preparing for trial."

"If there's any reason to believe that the defendant may not be competent, then we're required to bring this motion," Marshall said in court.

Assistant Kandiyohi County Attorney Kristen Pierce asked Judge Wentzell to deny the motion because Marshall did not provide specific instances of cognitive decline in Vossen that would require an evaluation.

Pierce said Vossen hasn't been diagnosed with a mental condition and that a Dec. 2, 2020, neurological examination "showed that he was alert, oriented, his speech was fluent and able to follow commands."

Pierce acknowledged that an MRI for Vossen showed abnormalities and that doctors needed more information as it could be "due to normal wear and tear or it could be related to some form of dementia."

"The medical records aren't showing any actual functional deficits, just some self-reported memory problems," Pierce said in court, adding that Rule 20.01 — which governs competency proceedings — does not apply to physical limitations of COVID-19 concerns.

Marshall countered that it would be inappropriate for him to relay specific questions he has asked that Vossen was unable to answer and said doctors did, in fact, recommend further testing.

"I think if we fail to follow up on that, we would be remiss," Marshall said in court. "None of us want to get through this case and then have that be the issue that brings us all back in."

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"I do have concerns about his ability to consult with me about this case," Marshall said in court. "I have attempted to do that on a number of occasions," adding that there may have been other circumstances that were the cause of that but he doesn't know, which is why the evaluation is needed.

For related stories, see Algene Vossen .

Judge Wentzell said that if there's reason to doubt the competency of a defendant, the court has to order a competency evaluation by a forensic psychologist.

"In this case, Mr. Marshall indicates and represents to the court that he has concerns regarding Mr. Vossen's ability to meaningfully consult with him," Judge Wentzell said.

A review hearing has been scheduled for March 2.

A Willmar native, Vossen was living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when he was arrested in July. He was booked into the Kandiyohi County Jail in September following extradition proceedings and made his first appearance in Kandiyohi County. He was held on $1 million bail.

Vossen was hospitalized in St. Cloud from Oct. 17 to Oct. 27 for medical treatment. He was then released into the care of his niece in Des Moines, Iowa, to seek medical treatment for various mental and physical disabilities, including dementia.

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
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