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Judge rules Vossen incompetent to stand trial in 1974 Willmar homicide

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.

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WILLMAR, Minn. — A Kandiyohi County District Court Judge has found Algene Leeland Vossen not currently competent to stand trial for a 1974 Willmar homicide.

Vossen, 80, is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman. 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.

A Willmar native, Vossen was living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, when he was arrested in July 2020. He was booked into the Kandiyohi County Jail in September following extradition proceedings and made his first appearance in Kandiyohi County Court on Sept. 4, 2020. He was held on $1 million bail.

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

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Vossen was released from jail in October of 2020. He was hospitalized in St. Cloud from Oct. 17 to Oct. 27, 2020, for medical treatment. He was then released into the care of his niece in Iowa, where he currently remains.

District Judge Stephen Wentzell, in a 23-page order filed Nov. 5, found Vossen not competent to stand trial and ordered the Kandiyohi County prepetition screening team to conduct a screening of Vossen and make a recommendation on whether Vossen should be civilly committed under the Minnesota Commitment and Treatment Act.

The report must be sent to the Kandiyohi County Attorney's Office within five days of Judge Wentzell's order.

Once that recommendation is submitted, the Attorney's Office will either file a petition for civil commitment or notify the court that the office is not seeking a civil commitment.

If Vossen is civilly committed, the person in charge of Vossen's supervision will give a report every six months on the status of Vossen's competency.

Judge Wentzell wrote in his order that the requirement for a case to be dismissed after three years of civil commitment when a defendant's competency has not been restored does not apply to Vossen's case due to the severity of his charge.

Wentzell had taken under advisement conflicting testimony given by three evaluators during a Sept. 10 competency hearing. Wenztell had also asked for the prosecution and the defense to submit written briefs.

In his order, Judge Wentzell wrote that Vossen displays significant short-term memory impairments along with additional impairments that would hinder his ability to consult with his defense attorney or recall facts related to the case.

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Wentzell cited testimony from all three evaluators — Dr. Sara Vaccarella, an evaluator for the defense; Dr. Tricia Aiken, a court-appointed evaluator; and the Kandiyohi County Attorney's office evaluator, Dr. Harlan James Gilbertson. They all suggested Vossen suffered from "significant memory impairment, specifically regarding newly learned information."

"A defendant's ability to recall learned information is essential both for their participation in the formulation of a defense, as well as their ability to communicate with counsel rationally," Wentzell wrote.

Both Vaccarella and Aiken testified that Vossen was incompetent. Gilbertson concluded Vossen was competent despite some cognitive decline.

"Though (the evaluators) varied on the extent of (Vossen's) impairment, each of the three experts opined that (Vossen) displayed serious memory complications," Wentzell wrote.

Following this order, the criminal proceedings will be suspended until Vossen is found competent.

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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