MANKATO – A murder trial in Mankato left no doubt that Levi Minissale did it. Even his lawyers admitted it.
But they claimed that Minissale’s service in the Marines and the “kill” mentality that he had learned pushed a man struggling with hallucinations to stab his onetime girlfriend to death and attempt to murder her husband.
Friday night, a Mankato jury agreed, finding Minissale not guilty by reason of insanity after about eight hours of deliberation.
Despite the verdict, Minissale will not be set free. He will remain civilly committed at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and will face periodic evaluations.
The jury already had found Minissale, 26, of Minneapolis, guilty of killing Yesenia Gonzalez and attempting to murder her husband, Gallo Ruiz, in 2013. The second phase of the trial focused on Minissale’s mental state at the time.
The jury’s decision came after it heard evidence of a multiyear slide into mental illness for Minissale, who was described as a substandard Marine who began hearing angels talking to him while he was still in boot camp.
Despite his deficiencies, he was sent to one of the most hotly contested parts of Afghanistan as the U.S. military scrambled to implement a combat surge there in 2011.
Minissale, who with another Marine had been dubbed “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum,” faltered in combat and was haunted by an incident where he shot at and may have killed a group of civilians that included children.
Minissale has been civilly committed as mentally ill and dangerous, diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. He claimed God ordered him to kill Gonzalez and Ruiz.
Prosecutors do not dispute that Minissale was mentally ill at the time of the attack, but said his actions before and afterward show he was aware what he did was wrong, the standard for determining if he should be held legally responsible.
His lawyer, Army veteran Brock Hunter, said it’s likely Minissale would have washed out of the military if troops weren’t so badly needed at the time. Combined with preexisting mental-health issues, the fact that he was drilled as a Marine to obey orders unconditionally left him with no choice but to do what he thought God had commanded, Hunter said.
“Just like in Afghanistan, he followed orders,” Hunter said. “He made it through the filter. They should never have deployed him.”
In a bizarre narrative, Minissale apparently believed that time-traveling aliens had kidnapped his brother and others close to him and taken them to the future, replacing them with impostors. Minissale believed that God was instructing him to seek revenge for the actions, often communicating through GPS and the radio, asking for four heads on a wall. He bought baby wipes, gloves and a dual saw blade in anticipation of beheading his victims.
He was charged with stabbing Gonzalez at her home and wounding her husband in June 2013. She and Ruiz had what was described as an open marriage, and Minissale had been in a relationship with her until several months before. The husband awoke from napping to find Minissale attacking him. Ruiz was able to fend him off and Minissale fled. Minissale was arrested a short time later at a nearby convenience store.
Prosecutors contend Minissale knew what he did was wrong because he fled the house. He also planned on killing another ex-girlfriend in Sioux Falls, S.D., the day before but reconsidered because she had been nice to him, they said. Minissale never testified, sitting quietly and staring straight ahead in the courtroom.
A day of testimony earlier this week focused on Minissale’s time in the Marines, where he was characterized as a misfit who later seemed to dissolve into his own world.
100 combat patrols
Courtlandt Volker was in boot camp with Minissale and later deployed with him to Afghanistan’s violent Helmand Province, a stronghold of the Taliban. Their mission was to defend the Kajaki dam along the Helmand River. The dam was critical to irrigation in the valley and, as a consequence, critical to opium production that the Taliban relied on for revenue.
Volker testified that Minissale consistently tested poorly during training and often was the subject of hazing because of his ineptitude and naiveté. At one point, Minissale admitted to Volker that angels were speaking to him in his dreams.
During his time in Afghanistan, Minissale’s unit conducted more than 100 combat patrols and was engaged daily by the enemy. His unit took 12 casualties. In one incident, Minissale and another Marine opened fire on a group of Afghans along a tree line where the Taliban was suspected of planting roadside bombs. They discovered later that they had fired on a group of local farmers and children.
In another incident, Volker testified about being in a firefight, while Minissale, who was designated an expert marksman, failed to fire and was “off in la-la land.”
After the unit returned stateside, Volker said many were concerned about Minissale’s well-being if he left the military. They thought he might end up homeless or attempt suicide. Minissale should have sought counseling but was concerned he would be considered crazy, Volker said.
“We knew Levi was pretty disconnected with reality,” Volker said. “We just didn’t know the extent of it.”
A former Marine lieutenant, Deven Ravel, testified about the Marine Corps ethos and its culture. He said Marines are drilled with “an instant willingness and obedience to orders.”
A 32-page psychological evaluation of Minissale was conducted for the defense by Dr. Ernest Boswell, a clinical psychologist who is considered an expert on post-traumatic stress and similar disorders.
After interviewing Minissale and others and reviewing his military records, Boswell concluded that Minissale’s combat experiences most likely eroded his already-fragile psychological makeup and that the onset of his psychosis probably occurred during his time in the military.
Boswell later concluded that Minissale, overwhelmed and consumed by delusions and hallucinations, was unable to understand that what he was doing was wrong.
“His entire construction of the situation was bizarre, fragmented and driven by psychosis,” he wrote.