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Bennett trial: Unusual case has hung jury

October 29, 2010
Jenn Brookens — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - Following another full day of testimony and four hours of deliberations, the jury could not reach a conclusion on whether chiropractor Douglas Eugene Bennett was mentally ill or simply under the influence of substances when he attacked a rural Truman couple in June 2008.

The five-man, seven-woman jury received the case around 5 p.m. Thursday for deliberation, but about four hours later, they could not reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a mistrial.

The case could be retried. A hearing in a few weeks will determine what happens next.

"The whole process has been so trying, I can't even guess as to how anyone would want to proceed," said defense attorney Troy Timmerman after the hung jury was announced. "True, a hung jury is highly unusual, but the whole case has been unusual. But it also shows that the jury was giving a lot of thought to it and doing what they were supposed to do."

An attempt to contact prosecuting attorney Michael Trushenski after the announcement was unsuccessful.

During the last day of testimony Thursday, two more psychiatrists testified, one for the defense and one for the state, before closing arguments were made.

"What makes a man that's trained to heal hurt someone in such a terrible manner?" Timmerman asked in his closing arguments.

Bennett reportedly believed he was on a mission from God and was fighting demons when he broke into a rural farmhouse and assaulted the elderly couple June 2008.

Psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Gratzer of Ramsey County testified that after testing Bennett earlier this year he believed that Bennett had a bi-polar personality, and what happened in June 2008 when he attacked Elmer and Marcella Sauck in their home was a manic-psychotic episode.

"Prior to 2008, his psychological state is unremarkable," Gratzer said. "It's not uncommon to see depressive episodes before a manic episode, but many people have depressions and don't go on to have a manic episode."

But he estimated about 80 percent of people who have a manic episode do become psychotic.

Gratzer also added in his testimony that sleep deprivation and too much caffeine may have played more of a role in Bennett's mental state than the marijuana, hormones and iodine supplement. Furthermore, the violent and out of control behavior was well beyond what is seen from someone intoxicated, Gratzer said.

"You don't get that crazy from being intoxicated," he said. "These are psychotic symptoms."

Gratzer also told the court that in Ramsey County he has reviewed numerous cases with defendants attempting to plead "insanity." But he said he would only grant it to two of the cases he's seen - one of those being Bennett.

"It's one of the cases that falls most neatly into the category of insanity at the time," he said. "He was completely crazy in June 2008. Usually there is some rational motives, and there absolutely no rational explanation at all."

Gatzner also was convinced it was a mental illness because Bennett had a similar, though not violent, relapse of psychosis several months later.

"If it was just June 2008, it would be tempting to believe it was from the substances, but the additional relapse in absence of the drugs, I believe the episode was genuine," he said.

On cross-examination, Trushenski asked if the September relapse could be a lingering effect from the drugs Bennett was on in June or if the episode was staged for his defense.

"Until (Bennett) saw me, he believed what he suffered was a substance abuse psychosis," Gatzner said. "So the September 2008 episode would be contrary to his defense at the time."

Gatzner also testified that he believed Bennett found being kept at the security hospital in St. Peter was worse than prison.

"He was worried about being mentally ill and dangerous," he said.

In the afternoon, testimony was heard from Dr. Shane Wernsing, formerly with the St. Peter security hospital.

After the September incident, Wernsing began weighing whether the psychosis was from the substances or possibly bi-polar.

"It could've been either," he said, "but we came to the conclusion of substance abuse. Once he was off the anti-psychotic medications, there was no recurrence."

He testified that he didn't believe Bennett was mentally ill in the traditional sense, but the combination of the drugs was the cause. He said the HCG hormone Bennett was taking to lose weight is known to raise testosterone levels in males, and in higher dosages can cause a "roid rage."

"It was clearly enough to affect him, because he was losing weight from it," Wernsing said.



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