FOND DU LAC COUNTY — Monday a jury heard testimony on the first day of the trial for a Fond du Lac man accused of intentionally killing a motorcyclist on the basis of the motorist's race.
Daniel Navarro is charged with a hate crime in a first-degree intentional homicide with a dangerous weapon.
Navarro pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
The incident happened on July 3, 2020, on Winnebago Dr. in Taycheedah. According to testimony from witnesses and officers who responded to the scene, Navarro drove his red pickup truck into 55-year-old Phillip Thiessen, who was riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
The prosecution alleges that Navarro set out to kill a white person and believed that someone in Fond du Lac county riding a motorcycle would be white.
The defense argues that Navarro did intentionally kill Thiessen, but it was not motivated by race. Instead was attempting to escape his home, where he believed his neighbors were poisoning him. Defense attorney Jeffrey Jensen said Navarro’s trouble began in 2018, when his employer in Ripon, Wisconsin contaminated his lab coat with a chemical sterilizer. Later, a former friend gave Navarro what he thought was LSD, but now believes it to be a poison. Navarro then believed that his neighbors continued to poison him and he needed to get away.
“He told the police officer his motive for crossing the center line and killing Phillip Thiessen was because that was the only way he could think of to be removed from his home and get away from the neighbor and the other people who were poisoning him,” Jensen said. “That was the motive, not racism, not hatred.”
In a criminal complaint, the prosecution states that Navarro told detectives he heard his neighbors say racist comments through the walls and everyone who was poisoning him, giving him acid, and making racist comments were white and were targeting him because he is Mexican.
Fond du Lac District Attorney Eric Toney said these comments from the defendant's interview with police point to racial motivations.
“The defendant repeatedly brought up race,” Toney said. “The defendant brought up Donald Trump and what the defendant called the ‘silent majority' that had elected president Trump in 2016 and the defendant’s feelings towards white people. His beliefs that he had been poisoned by white people at his place of employment.”
Officers who responded to the scene testified that Navarro was standing to the side waiting for police. Sgt. Logan Will with the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Office said Navarro told him he hit the motorcyclist on purpose.
“He just said, ‘it was intentional, sir.’ I then verified that I heard him correctly that he stated it was intentional. That’s when he repeated again, ‘it was intentional sir,’ and at that point in time I stopped my conversation and made some calls to my superiors,” said Will.
Monday’s trial also included testimony from witnesses to the crime. Witness Nancy McKinnon said she and her husband saw the accident from their car and turned around to help the victim. McKinnon is a retired nurse who had worked for 42 years. She testified that Thiessen was already deceased within minutes of the crash.
Thiessen was a former marine who worked as a police officer in Fairfax, Virginia before moving back to Wisconsin to work for the Wisconsin Department of Justice in the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. He was retired at the time of his death and was living in Fond du Lac County.
His daughter Maeghan Greeno testified that her father was a great father, grandfather, and public servant, and she had seen him only days before his death. She said her father would often tell his grandson to “do the right thing and help people.”
The jury in the trial includes six women and eight men. The trial is expected to continue Tuesday and last up to four days. In the first phase of the trial, the jury will be asked to find Navarro guilty or not guilty. If they find Navarro not guilty, a second phase of the trial will commence in which the jury will determine whether Navarro is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.