FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — A Pine River, Minn., man accused of beating a woman and her son to death two years ago in Otter Tail County will face a trial without a jury of his peers and the right to confront witnesses.
William Lynn Hillman, 23, asked Otter Tail County Judge Kevin Miller on Wednesday, May 27, to consider only evidence in the case, meaning no witnesses will testify on whether Hillman killed 42-year-old Denise Mcfadzen and her son, 21-year-old Dalton, in April 2018.
Hillman, who faces two second-degree felony counts of murder, waived his rights to a trial by jury and to confront witnesses.
Miller will review an exhibit containing all of the evidence in the case before deciding whether Hillman is guilty. If Hillman is found guilty, a second phase of the trial will be held to determine if mental illness can be used as a defense, Otter Tail County Attorney Michelle Eldien said.
“The state and defense would have expert witnesses testify at that stage of trial, and the court would need to make a decision whether he was not guilty by reason of insanity at the time," she said in an email.
Hillman lived with the Mcfadzens in a mobile home at 43230 505th St., Frazee, before he was arrested in connection to their deaths. The mother and son died of blunt-force trauma to their heads, according to autopsy reports.
Prosecutors allege Hillman bludgeoned the two to death with a pipe wrench on April 17, 2018, but he told investigators he “blacked out” when he woke up that morning, according to court documents. When he came back to his senses, he realized he had done “a bad thing,” the documents said.
Court records show Hillman had been declared mentally ill in 2016. Experts have ruled he is competent to stand trial, which was scheduled to begin Wednesday, June 3. However, his attorneys asked Miller to conduct a stipulated evidence trial.
Typically, Miller would have to make a ruling on the evidence phase of the trial within seven days, but Hillman waived that right. His attorneys cited the complex nature of the case and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s possible the potential second stage would not occur before August, Eldien said.
It's unclear why Hillman waived his rights to a trial by jury and witness testimony. His attorney, Brian Geis, did not return a message left by The Forum seeking comment for this story.