A mental health evaluation has been ordered for a Hibbing man accused of killing his 71-year-old former landlord during a 2017 burglary.
The case against Blake Andrew Stangel, 51, will remain on hold for at least several weeks pending the findings of a court-appointed psychologist. Stangel is charged with intentional second-degree murder in the death of Courtney Fenske.
The evaluation was ordered by Senior Judge Mark Munger as Stangel made his first appearance on the new charge Friday in State District Court in Hibbing. Munger also set the defendant's bail at $500,000.
Stangel, who previously bonded out on a second-degree manslaughter charge, was rearrested Thursday after prosecutors filed an amended complaint with the more serious murder offense.
The upgraded charge came after he allegedly admitted to his role in Fenske's death in a May 30 phone call from jail. Stangel allegedly stated that he "went to a burglary with someone" and tied up his former landlord, who "ended up dying from it (because she) couldn't get loose."
Fenske's body was found in her home at 11072 S. Townline Road, in Lavell Township, on Nov. 28, 2017, after a postal worker reported that she had not been picking up her mail. Investigators said she had thermal pants wrapped tightly around her head, covering both her nose and mouth, and that her arms and legs were bound.
A medical examiner concluded that Fenske died from asphyxia due to ligature strangulation and smothering. Authorities said a DNA sample taken from Stangel matched suspect specimens recovered at the crime scene from ligatures, rope and Fenske's body.
Citing a "vulnerable" victim and the "cruelty" with which she was treated, prosecutors are seeking an above-guideline term on the murder charge, which carries up to 40 years in prison.
Under the judge's order, Duluth psychologist Megan Paris will examine Stangel and determine whether he is capable of understanding the court proceedings and participating in his own defense.
The evaluation may also gather evidence that could be used at trial to argue that the defendant was mentally ill and incapable of understanding the wrongfulness of his actions at the time of the offense.
A hearing to review the evaluation's progress is scheduled for July 8.
This story originally misstated Fenske's age at the time of her death. It was updated at 6:18 p.m. June 14. The News Tribune regrets the error.