By Dan Nienaber
The Free Press
ST PETER —
A mental illness defense will be used for a man charged with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing his mother more than 20 times while out on a pass from the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter in May.
Burton James Ewing Jr., 49, was in court Thursday for the first time since his initial appearance for felony attempted murder and assault charges on May 29. He was arrested May 8 after witnesses called 911 to report a man was stabbing someone in a car at Seven Mile Creek County Park. The victim, Ewing's mother Marlys Olson of Coon Rapids, attended Thursday's court hearing.
Ewing's case has been on hold while he was being evaluated by two psychology experts. One evaluation report was filed in December and the other was filed in January. The reports are being kept confidential by court administrators and attorneys wouldn't comment on the results, but the assault and murder trial is moving forward.
Ewing's attorney, Tracy Bains, told District Court Judge Allison Krehbiel that she is planning to use a mental illness defense. Bains also requested a court trial, meaning the case will be presented to Krehbiel and decided by her instead of a jury. After confirming with Ewing that he was willing to waive his right to a jury trial, Krehbiel granted Bains' request.
"It's certainly our opinion that he has been mentally ill the entire time and he was mentally ill at the time of this very tragic incident," Bains said after the hearing.
Nicollet County Attorney Michelle Zehnder Fischer has also filed a notice that she will be requesting a longer prison sentence than what is recommended by state guidelines, if Ewing is found guilty. Her notice said the reasons for her upward sentencing departure request include the cruelty of the alleged attack, the multiple weapons used, the multiple injuries Ewing's mother received and the "high degree of sophistication and planning" for the incident.
Olson had picked Ewing up at the Security Hospital on the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center campus for a day pass the day she was attacked. Ewing had been sent to the Security Hospital in 1998 after he beat his sister to death and was found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness. He was going through the process of being released in May and had left the hospital on day passes with his mother several times before.
After Olson and Ewing left the hospital they went to a store to buy barbecue supplies before going to the park to ride bikes. As soon as Olson pulled into the Seven Mile Creek lot east of Highway 169, Ewing allegedly took a seat from a bike and started beating his mother on the head with it.
He then attempted to stab his mother through the eyes with barbecue tongs after she pulled into the park, the complaint said. When the tongs started bending, he got out of the car, grabbed a steak knife from the back of the car and started stabbing his mother as several witnesses watched. Ewing was still stabbing Olson when a Nicollet County sheriff's deputy arrived.
There were several law enforcement officers in the immediate area because another inmate at the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center had escaped that day. That man was caught after spending the night hiding in the same area as Seven Mile Creek, but investigators said the two incidents happened at the same time by coincidence.
Investigators learned Ewing had made plans to not return to the Security Hospital. He had withdrawn all his money from a bank account and packed a bag with food, clothing and other provisions. The bag wasn't checked when he left, but a memorandum released by the Minnesota Department of Human Services earlier this month said an investigation found hospital staff hadn't violated any licensing regulations the day Ewing was released.
At Fischer's request, Krehbiel will issue an order for the Security Hospital to release all of Ewing's records from the facility. Fischer said she expects that process to take several weeks so another hearing has not been scheduled. Fischer also estimated it will be at least July or August before a trial can start.