Mental state of murder suspect still in question


LE MARS, Iowa — Doctors are continuing their attempts to restore the mental competency of a Merrill, Iowa, man so he can stand trial for murder, but progress apparently has slowed.

District Judge James Daane noted in an order filed Monday that a psychiatrist’s report said Thomas Knapp has “stalled” in the restoration process. Daane left a previously scheduled competency hearing on the docket for Feb. 21 in Plymouth County District Court.


In August, Senior Judge Duane Hoffmeyer ruled that Knapp was mentally incompetent to stand trial for the May 11, 2020, shooting death of Kevin Juzek and suspended all court proceedings until his competency could be restored.

Knapp was admitted to the Iowa Department of Corrections’ Forensic Psychiatric Hospital on Nov. 2. In a 30-day progress report filed with the court on Dec. 3, a psychiatrist said Knapp was cooperative and had been tentatively diagnosed with a mild to moderate neurocognitive disorder and should remain in the hospital.

A 60-day progress report filed Monday contained the notice that Knapp’s restoration has slowed. Another progress report is required by law in 60 days.

Knapp, 83, has pleaded not guilty of first-degree murder and willful injury. He is charged with shooting Juzek, 51, in the abdomen and chest with a 20-gauge shotgun during a disturbance at a rural Merrill home.

Knapp’s mental condition has been an issue since the case’s beginning. A previous psychiatric examination found Knapp mentally incompetent to stand trial, but the evaluation report mentioned the possibility of having Knapp undergo an MRI or other brain scan.

The case has been further complicated by Knapp’s hearing loss, which has made it hard for him to communicate with his attorney and follow along with court proceedings, even after being fitted with hearing aids. The December psychiatrist’s report said Knapp’s hearing loss has been an issue, but doctors have been able to work through it.

Knapp has pleaded not guilty in a separate case of willful injury causing bodily injury, domestic abuse assault while using or displaying a dangerous weapon and two counts of first-offense domestic abuse. He is charged with striking his wife in the head with a stick and breaking bones in her hand during the same disturbance in which Juzek was killed.

Both cases will be tried at the same time.

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