Jury hears testimony in trial for man charged in hate crime killing of motorcyclist
FOND DU LAC COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A jury has heard opening statements and testimony in the trial of a Fond du Lac County man charged with a hate crime in the killing of a motorcyclist.
Daniel Navarro is charged with 1st Degree Intentional Homicide - Hate Crime - Use of a Dangerous Weapon in the death of Phillip A. Thiessen.
On Monday, the prosecution and defense selected a jury made up of eight men and six women. Also, the prosecution requested the court dismiss a count of 1st Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety - Hate Crime. The defense did not object. The charge was dropped.
Navarro has pleaded Not Guilty By Reason of Mental Disease or Defect. He is expected to testify at trial.
The day continued with opening statements. District Attorney Eric Toney repeatedly told the jury that Navarro had confessed several times, saying he hit the motorcycle because he assumed Thiessen was “a rich white man.”
“In the defendant’s own words, in that interview with detectives Murphy and Fink when they’re asking him questions, at some point he’s almost saying ‘I did this on purpose. I didn’t expect there to be this big investigation. I even told the deputies at the scene,’” said Toney.
Navarro’s attorney did not dispute that his client hit Thiessen, but he told the jury it wasn’t a hate crime. He tells the court Navarro believed people were out to get him.
“He told the police officer the motive for crossing the center line and killing Phillip Thiessen was because that was the only way he could think of to be removed from his home and get away from his neighbor and the other people who were poisoning him,” said Attorney Jeffrey Jensen.
Thiessen’s daughter was the first witness to take the stand Monday. Maeghan Greeno told the jury about her father’s years of service in law enforcement. He was a police officer and also served with the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Greeno said when she heard about the crash and couldn’t get in touch with her father, she had a bad feeling.
“I knew it was him. My family was in the car, including my son. My dad was his hero. He wanted to be him. They were inseparable and I had to lie to him all the way home telling him grandpa was fine and that there was a police officer following us home because they were going to help us find grandpa,” said Greeno.
Witnesses to the crash told the jury they saw Navarro cross the centerline and hit Thiessen.
“The motorcycle was going west and as soon as he passed me, I heard a bang, seen the motorcycle up in the air the motorcycle was 20 feet up in the air and we pulled over right away,” said witness Mike McKinnon.
McKinnon’s wife is a retired nurse. She testified to assessing Thiessen at the scene.
“I went and I checked him. He was not not breathing, he did not have a pulse. And there was an arterial bleed coming from his neck to around his head,” said Nancy McKinnon.
Other witnesses turned their attention to Navarro.
“I just thought he was in shock or he had no expression and just sat and kind of watched everything unfold,” said witness Michelle Ziegelbauer.
A sergeant testified that Navarro confessed that what he had done had been intentional.
“He just said it was intentional sir. I then verified that I heard him correctly that he stated it was intentional that when he repeated again it was intentional sir, and at that point and time I stopped my conversation and made some calls to my superiors,” said Sgt. Logan Will.
The crash happened on Winnebago Drive. Victim Phillip A. Thiessen was a 1983 graduate of L.P. Goodrich High School, was a Marine and later a police officer in Fairfax, Va. Later, Thiessen worked for the Wisconsin Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children unit. He had retired and was living in Fond du Lac.
Detectives interviewed Navarro for several hours. They say Navarro claimed he was being poisoned by co-workers and neighbors. He claimed white people make racist comments to him because he’s Hispanic.
“He [Navarro] said that all of the people who cause him these problems in his life are Caucasian or white,” said Sheriff Ryan Waldschmidt.
Thiessen’s family, through the Fond du Lac Area Foundation, created the Phillip Thiessen Memorial Scholarship fund to benefit criminal justice students.
“He risked his life every day and I just keep trying to tell myself, in my head, that this was maybe the last way that he protected and served people by risking his life, that his life is now gone for this,” says Greeno.
Testimony is expected to continue Tuesday.
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