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Minn. Supreme Court turns down appeal, leaving incompetence ruling in place in cold case homicide

With the Minnesota Supreme Court declining to review a lower court opinion, the ruling of state courts that Algene Vossen is not competent to go to trial will stand. Vossen is charged with murder in the 1974 stabbing death of Mabel "Mae" Herman in Willmar.

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WILLMAR, Minn. — The Minnesota Supreme Court has declined to review lower courts’ decisions that Algene Leeland Vossen is not competent to stand trial in a 1974 homicide.

The court denied the appeal in a single-page, one-sentence order signed July 19 by Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea. That means the earlier rulings that Vossen is not competent will stand.

Vossen, 81, is charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman, 73, in her Willmar. She was found Jan. 27, 1974, on the floor of the living room of her home.

VOSSEN, ALGENE LEELAND
Algene Leeland Vossen
Contributed / Minnehaha County (S.D.) Jail

Vossen was arrested in July 2020 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after DNA linked him to Herman’s death, which had gone unsolved for more than 40 years.
In May, the Minnesota Court of Appeals upheld a 2021 Kandiyohi County District Court ruling that Vossen was not competent.

A competency exam was ordered after defense attorney Kent Marshall of Barrett said he believed Vossen had dementia and was incapable of working with him to prepare a defense.

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District Judge Stephen J. Wentzell found Vossen not competent in November 2021. Kandiyohi County Attorney Shane Baker appealed the ruling, alleging Vossen’s cognitive impairment was not severe enough to prevent him from going to trial.

The Court of Appeals opinion praised Wentzell’s original ruling as thorough and detailed.

After the Court of Appeals ruling, Baker filed an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has discretion in the cases it decides to hear, and it denied the Kandiyohi County appeal.

According to the Court of Appeals opinion, “There is sufficient record evidence from all three experts that Vossen has significant short-term memory-impairment issues barring him from rationally consulting with counsel.”

A criminal case must be put on hold if a defendant is not competent, the appeals court said.

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The bodies of a man and woman, along with two deceased dogs, were found on the 25000 block of County Road 6 in a Lakeview Township residence on Sept. 27, according to a news release from the Becker County Sheriff's Office.

According to the opinion, Vossen was unable to identify the month or the day of the week, and he couldn’t say when his wife had died, according to the opinion. He was unable to say when he was charged with murder or when he moved to his most recent home.

Vossen was arrested in 2020 after a Willmar Police Department cold case team reviewed multiple unsolved crimes, including the Herman homicide.

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The team looked at several suspects from that time, including Vossen. Evidence against him had been inconclusive.

The team identified evidence that could possibly be used for modern DNA analysis.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found DNA of an apparent suspect. Other suspects in the case were ruled out, but Vossen’s DNA was not available for comparison.

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The department learned that Vossen lived in Sioux Falls and executed a search warrant for his DNA, with assistance from South Dakota law enforcement authorities.

In July 2020, the BCA crime lab said Vossen’s DNA was a match to the evidence found at the Willmar crime scene.

Less than a week later, officers from Willmar and South Dakota arrested Vossen at his home.

Vossen was extradited to Minnesota and booked into the Kandiyohi County Jail in September 2020. He was released on a medical furlough and has lived with a niece in Iowa since late 2020.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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