A Dane County judge should have allowed a Fall River man, who stabbed a man in Madison before committing several other crimes in other counties, the opportunity to present an insanity defense, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 4th District Court of Appeals said James M. Kruger, 41, who was convicted of state and federal crimes following a three-county crime spree in 2013, should have been allowed by Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke to present an insanity defense during his trial in Madison on charges of first-degree reckless endangerment and felony bail jumping.
The appeals court, however, did not throw out guilty verdicts reached by a jury on the two charges. Instead, the panel ordered the case sent back to Ehlke for a second trial phase, to determine whether Kruger was not legally responsible for his actions due to mental illness. At this phase, a jury would decide whether Kruger suffered from a mental illness at the time he committed the crimes and whether that illness made him unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions and conform his behavior to the law.
The appeals court stressed that “nothing in this opinion should be construed” as stopping Ehlke from granting or rejecting motions to dismiss the insanity bid after evidence is heard.
“If raised, those would be issues for the circuit court to address based on the evidence before the court at that time,” the court wrote.
Kruger pleaded no contest in Grant County to armed robbery, strangulation and false imprisonment for events there on Sept. 10, 2013, that included an assault of his uncle in Cassville and the theft of guns and money from him, and for ordering a farmer at gunpoint to drive him away in his truck.
The day before, Kruger stabbed a man on Madison’s East Side.
A jury in Grant County then considered whether Kruger was insane at the time of events there and concluded that while he suffered from a mental illness, he was able to conform his conduct to the law. In part citing the Grant County jury’s decision, prosecutors in Dane County persuaded Ehlke not to allow Kruger to present an insanity defense at his Dane County trial.
The appeals court wrote there was no evidence that experts who testified in the Grant County case had assessed Kruger’s mental state on both Sept. 9 and Sept. 10, 2013. It also rejected the state’s contention that Kruger’s expert was not credible for the Dane County case when that expert hadn’t testified during the Grant County trial about Kruger’s conduct in Dane County.
Kruger was sentenced to 15 years in prison on two federal gun possession convictions and received a 14-year sentence in the Grant County matter to be served at the same time. The Dane County convictions added a consecutive eight-year prison sentence.
A 22-count case against Kruger remains open in Iowa County due to several factors, including an ongoing evaluation of Kruger’s competence to stand trial.