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Appeals court affirms suspect in west-central Minnesota homicide cold case incompetent to aid in defense

Algene Vossen, arrested after DNA evidence linked him to a 1974 killing in Willmar, has been found by a Kandiyohi County District Court judge to be incompetent to stand trial. The Minnesota Court of Appeals has affirmed that ruling.

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WILLMAR — The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that Algene Leeland Vossen is incompetent to stand trial on a murder charge.

Vossen, 80, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman, 73, in Willmar in January 1974. She was found deceased on Jan. 27, 1974, on the floor of the living room of her home.

Vossen was arrested in July 2020 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, after DNA linked him to Herman’s stabbing death, which had gone unsolved for more than 40 years.

Algene Vossen mug.jpg
Algene Leeland Vossen

Vossen was found incompetent for trial in November 2021 by Kandiyohi County District Court Judge Stephen J. Wentzell because Vossen would not have been able to participate in his defense.

A competency exam had been ordered after defense attorney Kent Marshall of Barrett had told the court he believed Vossen had dementia and could not adequately participate in trial preparation.

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Kandiyohi County Attorney Shane Baker appealed the ruling, saying that Vossen may have cognitive impairments but would still be able “to rationally consult with counsel” and face a trial.

The Court of Appeals, in an opinion filed Monday , disagreed.

Wentzell’s ruling was thorough and detailed in his examination of expert testimony about Vossen’s cognitive abilities, the appeals court said. Three different professionals had evaluated Vossen.

“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,” according to the appeals court opinion.

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

Previous coverage:
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.
Algene Vossen, 79, is charged with second-degree murder in the 1974 killing of Mabel "Mae" Agnes Boyer Herman in Willmar. A competency hearing was held Sept. 10, where multiple doctors gave conflicting reports after a competency evaluation declared him unable to assist in his defense.
A 46-year-old cold case finally has a suspect in custody after law enforcement was able to match DNA from Algene Leeland Vossen, 79, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to the 1974 stabbing death of Mabel Agnes Boyer Herman in her home in Willmar.

The court listed some of the results of Vossen’s examinations. He 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.

Defense attorney Marshall said he thought the court’s ruling on Vossen’s competence was to be expected given Wentzell’s initial ruling.

Baker said in an email he intends to ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the decision.

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He has 30 days to file the petition, and the Supreme Court can choose whether it will hear an appeal. That decision could come within about six weeks, he said.

“Meanwhile, we have an 80-year-old man who’s suffering from dementia, and we need to keep in mind he’s presumed to be innocent,” Marshall said. “We need to consider his geriatric needs.”

Two families are waiting for the results of the proceedings, he said — one wanting closure and justice, and one believing their loved one is innocent.

In June 2020, the Willmar Police Department set up a temporary cold case team that reviewed multiple unsolved crimes, including the Herman homicide.

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

The team identified evidence that could be used for DNA analysis.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension analyzed the evidence and found DNA of an apparent suspect. Other suspects in the case were ruled out, but Vossen’s DNA was not available for comparison.

The department learned that Vossen lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and obtained 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 Herman crime scene.

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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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