Stillwater man found not guilty of killing grandfather by reason of mental illness

STAR TRIBUNE (Mpls.-St. Paul) Newspaper of the Twin Cities

By Emily Gurnon

Date: 4/5/11

From the start, the acts seemed those of a tormented soul.

A Ramsey County judge made it official Monday: Mental illness drove Timothy Novak of Stillwater to choke and stab his grandfather to death last summer in Roseville.

District Judge Dale Lindman found Novak not guilty of second-degree murder by reason of mental illness.

"The psychological and psychiatric evidence ... convince this court that the defendant ... was laboring under such a defect of reason brought upon by a mental illness at the time that he killed Eugene Novak, so that he did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his act," Lindman wrote in his court order, filed Monday after a brief hearing.

Novak, 30, who had been hospitalized for schizophrenia, was out on a day pass from a transitional living center Aug. 24 when he drove to his grandfather's condominium in Roseville.

"He felt that his grandfather had been 'stealing his energy' and that he'd been doing this for quite some time," prosecutor David Miller said.

Novak entered the condo in the 2700 block of Dale Street and attacked the older man. First, he choked his grandfather, then stabbed him in the neck and stomach.

Eugene Novak was 83.

Police were called to the scene by Timothy Novak's uncle, who discovered the body. Eugene Novak had "a towel or bloody rag stuffed in his mouth as he lay on the bathroom floor," Miller said.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Timothy Novak returned after police arrived and whispered to his uncle, "I did it." Police overheard him, Miller said.

The grandson told police that after the slaying, he drove to his parents' house in Stillwater to pick up bags and a saw. He then returned to his grandfather's condo, planning to dismember the body and dispose of it. He expressed remorse for the killing.

Defense attorney Earl Gray said Novak's parents, who attended the hearing, did not wish to comment.

Novak's mother said last week that the family hoped Timothy would get the treatment he needs.

Lindman ordered Monday that Novak be committed to Regions Hospital's psychiatric ward pending a referral of his case to probate court.

A probate judge will determine whether Novak is "mentally ill and dangerous" and thus subject to indefinite commitment. After that, any change in his civil commitment status will be reported to prosecutors, Lindman said.

A verdict of not guilty by reason of mental illness is rare in Minnesota.

In 2009, 18 defendants were acquitted in that manner. In 2010, there were six. This year, there has been one other, according to a spokesman for the Minnesota Judicial Branch.

One recent case involved an Eagan man who decapitated his 68-year-old stepmother. Stephen Miles, 27, hit Maris Jo Miles in the head with a hatchet and removed her head with a kitchen knife. He told police he did it "because I voted for Fidel Castro." He was found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness in February 2010.

Gerald Wassenaar, 67, who beat his wife to death in their home in St. Paul, had "a lengthy and well-documented history of major mental illness" and was "acutely psychotic" at the time of the attack, a judge said in May 2010 in finding him not guilty of murder.

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