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Man pleads not guilty in sister's murder, cites mental illness: Court hearing reveals he has bipolar disorder

David Michael Otey

The 38-year-old Cambridge man—charged in the 2018 stabbing death of his sister at her Crosby workplace—pleaded not guilty Friday, March 8, by reason of mental illness and said he didn't know what he was doing at the time of the crime.

David Michael Otey was indicted last February by a Crow Wing County District Court grand jury in Brainerd on first-degree murder with premeditation, which carries a penalty of life in prison. He also was indicted on second-degree intentional murder, which has a 40-year prison sentence. Otey was initially charged Jan. 16, 2018—three days after the incident—with felony second-degree intentional murder without premeditation in the death of his sister, Danyele Marie Johnson of Ironton.

Otey appeared Friday in front of Judge Kristine DeMay in Crow Wing County District Court in Brainerd wearing a Crow Wing County Jail-issued orange jumpsuit with his hands shackled at his waist. Otey, who was in a wheelchair for his first few court appearances, walked into the courtroom on his own.

He was scheduled in court for an omnibus hearing with his Public Defender Carly S. Vosacek. However, he waived his rights to the omnibus hearing, which is to determine the evidence of the case and includes testimony and discussion of issues relating to a fair and expeditious trial, as stated under the Minnesota Court Rules. Instead, Otey entered a not guilty plea by reason of mental illness on both murder charges and waived his rights to have a jury trial.

Vosacek asked Otey a series of questions to make sure he understood his rights and what he was doing. During the questioning, it was learned Otey has bipolar disorder, formerly called manic depression. It is a mental health condition causing extreme mood swings, including emotional highs and lows, according to the Mayo Clinic. When a person with the disorder mood shifts to mania or hypomania, they may feel euphoric, full of energy or unusually irritable. These mood swings can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior and the ability to think clearly.

Otey stated he is on medications for bipolar disorder, so he no longer hears any voices and he understands the court proceedings, as his attorney explained them to him well. Vosacek asked Otey if he knew what he was doing at the time of the stabbing incident, and he said he did not.

Vosacek asked Otey if he understood if the court would find him guilty of the two murder charges, he has the right to appeal the decision. He said he understood.

DeMay then asked Otey a series of questions, including if anyone threatened him to enter the not guilty plea and to waive his rights to a jury trial. Otey said he was not threatened and understood the court motions.

Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan, prosecuting the case, had no objections and handed DeMay the court documents needed, including the submissions of facts of the case and the stipulation documents, which is the agreement made between the two parties.

DeMay will now take the case under advisement. She will review the case, to see if the state proved its case in that the defendant killed his sister. The judge then will look at Otey's mental illness and his statement that he didn't know what he was doing at the time of the crime.

Ryan said this is the first time in his law career to see a case in which the McNaughton rule will be reviewed. The McNaughton rule—not knowing right from wrong—is the first famous legal test for insanity in 1843, the Cornell Legal Information Institute website states. Englishman Daniel McNaughton shot and killed the secretary of the British prime minister, believing the prime minister was conspiring against him. The court acquitted McNaughton "by reason of insanity," and he was placed in a mental institution for the rest of his life. However, the case caused a public uproar, and Queen Victoria ordered the court to develop a stricter test for insanity, the website stated.

The McNaughton rule was a standard to be applied by the jury, after hearing medical testimony from prosecution and defense experts. The rule created a presumption of sanity, unless the defense proved "at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong."

The McNaughton rule became the standard for insanity in the United States and the United Kingdom, and is still the standard for insanity in almost half of the states, the Cornell website states.

The criminal complaint

According to the criminal complaint filed against Otey, he left Cambridge at 6:45 a.m. Jan. 13, 2018, to travel to the Heartwood Senior Living Community in Crosby to meet with his sister, who worked in the kitchen at Heartwood. The visit was unannounced and unexpected. Otey told police he drove throughout the state the previous night thinking about killing his sister.

When Otey arrived, his sister let him into the senior living facility. Otey assisted his sister preparing food for 30 minutes before taking a knife and stabbing her, the complaint stated.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center paramedics arrived and declared Johnson dead at the scene.