MANKATO — A jury has found Levi Minissale not guilty by reason of insanity in the killing of Yesenia Gonzalez and the attempted murder of her husband, Galo Ruiz.
The jury deliberated for about eight hours Friday and reached a verdict at about 7 p.m.
"It's been a long, 2 1/2-year journey," said Minissale's defense attorney, Brockton Hunter. "We're all just very nervous and hopeful today."
Zac Minissale, Levi's older brother and the Minissale family spokesman, said his family was glad to see the jury found Levi not guilty.
"We're very relieved, and also heartbroken for the victim's family," he said. "Our condolences go out to them."
Zac Minissale criticized Blue Earth County officials for the way they treated Levi during his arrest. Levi spent several weeks in solitary confinement at the Blue Earth County Jail during his six-month stay before he was transferred to Minnesota Security Hospital.
In light of Levi Minissale's psychiatric evaluations, the family believes county officials should have taken his circumstances under consideration when they booked him.
"For someone who has just recently come back from a war zone, and from fighting for this country, we feel like there should be a little bit more respect and care instead of just throwing someone into a box for weeks on end in solitary confinement," Zac Minissale said.
Hunter and Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott finished their closing statements just before 11 a.m. Friday.
Prior to the statements, Blue Earth County District Court Judge Kurt Johnson ruled against Hunter's motion to have Johnson rule that Minissale was insane at the time of the murder and didn't understand what he was doing was morally wrong without sending the case to the jury.
The jury has already found Minissale, 26, guilty of the murder and attempted murder. For the past week they have been hearing additional evidence that focuses on whether or not Minissale was sane and understood that what he did was legally and morally wrong.
Hunter told the jury Minissale should be found innocent because it was clear he was acting on command hallucinations from a force he described as a spiritual drill instructor. The death of Gonzalez came at the hand of a man who had been abused by his father, sexually abused by other kids in his neighborhood and ended up in an alternative world of a combat Marine fighting in one of the worst areas of Afghanistan.
He wasn't qualified for that job, failing many tests as he worked his way through boot camp and infantry training, Hunter said. Minissale was sent to Afghanistan only because the military needed more boots on the ground. If Minissale wasn't already insane from his experience as a child, he certainly was after a key incident in the military where he was asked to fire a high-powered rifle into a tree line where he knew there were several men and women and two children. The area next to a village was referred to as Tree Line Black.
“Levi didn't want to kill Yesenia anymore than he wanted to kill those children in Tree Line Black,” Hunter said.
Hunter asked jurors to carefully look at the evidence they have heard during the past two weeks and return a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
During his closing arguments, McDermott accused Hunter of playing on the jurors' emotions and asked them to instead consider justice while making their decision.
He agreed that Minissale became insane to the point that he couldn't understand what he was doing but argued that it didn't happen until Minissale had been in jail for six months. Minissale did have a troubling childhood and a difficult time in the military, but that didn't justify his decision to kill Gonzalez, McDermott said.
“It may explain some behavior, but it doesn't excuse it,” McDermott said.
Minissale didn't do anything extremely odd in the jail until Jan. 20, which is when he kept everyone up by screaming and yelling and wiped feces on the wall, McDermott said.
He went over three interviews Minissale completed with detectives immediately after his arrest on June 6, 2013. Over and over during those interviews, Minissale said he was angry with Gonzalez and was sure she was lying to him and using him for money.
Gonzalez and Minissale had a romantic relationship in their past but had broken up a week or two before the murder. She was in an open marriage and was upfront with Minissale about having sex with other men. Immediately after the murder and during interviews with detectives, Minissale showed remorse, anguish, grief, guilt, pity, regret, shame and sorrow about what he had done, McDermott said.
He also pointed out that Minissale was in the Gonzalez and Ruiz home for 90 minutes before he finally made the decision to kill Gonzalez. It isn't logical that he was obeying the commands of a spiritual drill master at that time.
“He was in that house an hour and a half before he decided to stab her,” McDermott said. “That's not a command hallucination.
“He appreciated what he did legally and morally. He should be found guilty.”
In his rebuttal statement, Hunter said there were numerous records of Minissale acting strangely in the jail long before January 2014. He also said Minissale's mental illness during the police interviews didn't come through because he was hiding it.
“He didn't want to tell police,” Hunter said. “He didn't want to admit he was crazy.”