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Judge sends Wisconsin man to institution in hate crime crash

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FILE - This undated photo provided by the Fond du Lac County, Wis., Sheriff's Office, shows Daniel Navarro. Navarro, a 27-year-old Mexican American from Fond du Lac, was convicted Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, of first-degree intentional homicide as a hate crime in a July 3, 2020, crash that killed Phillip Thiessen, a retired law enforcement officer, in Fond du Lac County. Because Navarro has pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, his trial moves to the next phase to determine his mental state at the time of the fatal crash.(Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

FOND DU LAC, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin judge committed a man accused of targeting a motorcyclist in a fatal crash because of the victim’s race to life in a mental institution Thursday.

Daniel Navarro, a 27-year-old Mexican American from Fond du Lac, was convicted Wednesday of first-degree intentional homicide as a hate crime in the July 3, 2020 crash that killed Phillip Thiessen, who was white, in Fond du Lac County. He was also convicted of first-degree recklessly endangering safety as a hate crime.

Navarro pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. The convictions triggered a second phase of his trial in which the jury was tasked with determining his mental state at the time of the crash, a key finding that helps determine whether he should face prison time or be institutionalized.

Fond du Lac County District Attorney Eric Toney said the jury heard two doctors testify Thursday that Navarro suffered from paranoid delusions and schizophrenia. Judge Andrew Christenson committed him to the state Department of Health Services’ institutional care for life.

Navarro’s attorney, Jeffrey William Jensen, said the jury made the right call but there’s no cause for celebration in what he described as an “extremely sad case.”

“An innocent man is dead,” Jensen said. “And if (Navarro) had gotten help maybe he wouldn’t have ruined his life.”

Thiessen, 55, was a retired special agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice and a former police officer.

Prosecutors say Navarro struck his motorcycle head-on in the town of Taycheedah near Fond du Lac, about 67 miles (108 kilometers) north of Milwaukee. Authorities said Navarro didn’t know Thiessen.

Navarro told investigators he had been harassed by co-workers and neighbors, and poisoned, drugged and verbally attacked by white people because of his race, officials said.

During an interview at the sheriff’s office, Navarro said he wanted to go to prison for the rest of his life so he could be free from his neighbors, who he could hear making racist comments through the walls of his house, according to a criminal complaint.

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