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Judge sends Wisconsin man Daniel Navarro to institution in hate crime crash

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Posted at 2:21 PM, Aug 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 10:29:19-04

Daniel Navarro, the Fond du Lac man convicted of intentionally killing a motorcyclist with his truck in as a hate crime, was found not guilty by mental disease or defect in part two of his two-phase trial.

Navarro was found guilty of intentional homicide Wednesday in phase two of his trial. The second phase of the trial addressed the man's plea of not guilty due to mental disease or defect. According to the district attorney, the two doctors that testified during the trial gave the opinion that the defendant experienced paranoid delusions from schizophrenia. Navarro experienced auditory and physical hallucinations, as well as delusions that he was being poisoned.

The Fond du Lac man will be sent to the custody of the Department of Health Services, where he will remain in custody for the rest of his life. There were two dissenting jurors for Thursday's verdict.

Navarro was 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 Drive 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.”

Psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Robbins and Psychologist Dr. Deborah Collins both examined Navarro after the incident and said that this diagnosis led to Navarro's beliefs.

"This is not racism. This is psychosis. This is delusions," Robbins said. "You could believe there are elephants outside your house who are trying to kill you. In his case, he believed they were white people. He believed they were driving by and watching him and observing him and it was a fixed delusion. He really believed it to be true."

Collins said she believed Navarro's paranoia was extensive.

"It’s not uncommon that an individual whose thinking is out of wack, whose reality is out of touch, whose contact with reality is out of touch, and whose paranoid, will start to become paranoid about other things," Collins said. "And so political themes can sometimes enter into the delusions. Sometimes things about homosexuality can come in, so it can sort of permeate or seep into other areas."

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.”

"This entire two year process has been difficult to say the least," Greeno said. "But when considering and understanding the options moving forward, I cannot fathom an option where Mr. Navarro is not institutionalized for the rest of his life. Considering the severity of what happened, considering the blatant disregard for anyone else’s life and considering that we have not established that he does not understand the severity of what he’s doing and conform his actions to the law."

At the trial, Navarro apologized and said he would not have committed the crime if he had known that mental health support was available.

"It obviously is unfortunate but it happened," Navarro said. "But if anything is to blame, it is a strong amount of ignorance and arrogance."

The jury in the trial includes six women and eight men.