Minnesota trial on hold after ax killing of former Nebraskan

Minnesota trial on hold after ax killing of former Nebraskan
John Gallagher

A Minnesotan charged with killing his Nebraska-born neighbor with a maul ax has been found incompetent to aid in his own defense for mental health reasons.

So Mitchell Hoogenakker, 25, will not stand trial in the death of John Gallagher, a father of five — at least not yet.

“The murder charge against him goes dormant for the time being,” said Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the Hennepin County (Minnesota) Attorney’s Office. “There is another hearing scheduled in September to see if he is (then) competent.”

Police in Hopkins, Minnesota, a Minneapolis suburb, said Hoogenakker used an ax to force his way into Gallagher’s home on Aug. 25 and dragged him outside.

Responding officers found Gallagher, 67, fatally injured on his front lawn.

Authorities charged Hoogenakker a few days later with second-degree murder. But he was found incompetent to help in his defense during a subsequent court hearing and placed at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

The facility is a maximum-security psychiatric hospital for those deemed severely mentally ill and dangerous.

If the hearing in September shows that Hoogenakker has made adequate progress in his treatment, a trial can be scheduled. If not, hearings will be set at six-month intervals until Hoogenakker is found competent.

It is possible that authorities could eventually permanently commit Hoogenakker.

According to family and police, Hoogenakker’s family had lived next door to the Gallaghers for years before moving to another nearby house a few years ago.

There had been a history of disputes between Gallagher and Hoogenakker’s family, police said.

More recently, officials say, Hoogenakker threatened Gallagher. There had also been reports of vandalism at Gallagher’s house.

This past summer, according to a restraining order that Gallagher obtained, Hoogenakker had walked past Gallagher’s home in “zombielike fashion,” yelling obscenities and threats, according to the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis.

Gallagher’s family was among the first Irish settlers of O’Neill, a city of about 3,700 in north-central Nebraska, said a younger brother, Dick Gallagher, of Neligh.

He graduated from Boys Town High School in 1968 and moved to the Minneapolis area in the mid- to late ‘70s, working as a handyman for 30 years, his brother said.

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