Defendant’s competency in question

Local News

An attorney for a Winnebago man involved in a fatal crash wants a Faribault County judge to decide if his client is mentally competent to be charged or tried.

Jeffrey Gordon Gunzenhauser, 21, faces felony charges of criminal vehicular homicide and criminal vehicular operation, and gross misdemeanor criminal vehicular operation.

According to court documents, Gunzenhauser was drunk when he drove in the wrong lane and struck a vehicle driven by 76-year-old Harold Elvin Renkley of Blue Earth.

The crash occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 2020, south of Winnebago on Highway 169.

Gunzenhauser was officially charged in May of 2021 and in December his attorney Patrick Casey filed an affidavit requesting a Rule 20 competency evaluation.

Casey says his client suffers from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), and it has made it difficult to communicate with him.

“This injury has made it challenging to discuss legal issues, factual issues and general questions,” says Casey. “It is my opinion that he may be unable to assist in his own defense.”

Casey says his client has the inability to recall simple conversations they have had and believes it is a significant deficiency.

“I have concerns about his ability to formulate an intent and understand his rights or proceedings,” he says.

Last January, Judge Troy Timmerman ordered a mental evaluation to be conducted by Dr. Tyler Dority.

Criminal proceedings in the case were suspended until Dority completed the evaluation and submitted a report to the court.

Dority says Gunzenhauser is not competent to enter a plea, be tried or sentenced because of a neurocognitive disorder due to TBI.

“Mr. Gunzenhauser’s ability to engage in problem solving and decision making, retain and access information, learn new information, maintain attention and concentration or use language effectively would be impaired when interacting with his attorney or other officers of the court,” he says.

County Attorney Cameron Davis says Gunzenhauser during interviews with Dority was cooperative in conversations, relayed recollections of life events and did not exhibit delusional or bizarre behaviors.

Timmerman says Dority’s reliance on cognitive functioning tests and the medical diagnosis of TBI are misplaced in this case

As a result, Timmerman last month ordered that another evaluation be conducted by Dr. Paul Reitman.

“The court continues to have doubts as to the defendant’s competency or incompetency,” he says. “Justice equally requires that the incompetent person not be tried for a crime as that the competent person not avoid the legal repercussions for his actions.”

In addition to a medical evaluation, Timmerman wants to know if Gunzenhauser is found to be incompetent would he have to be institutionalized or could he be treated to attain competency and how long would that take.

The next hearing is scheduled to be held remotely on Monday, Aug. 15, in Faribault County District Court.

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