Judge rules man not guilty of sister's murder by reason of mental illness

A Crow Wing County District court judge ruled 38-year-old David Michael Otey, who stabbed his sister to death at her Crosby workplace in January 2018, is not guilty by reason of mental illness.

David Michael Otey
David Michael Otey

A Crow Wing County District court judge ruled 38-year-old David Michael Otey, who stabbed his sister to death at her Crosby workplace in January 2018, is not guilty by reason of mental illness.

Judge Kristine DeMay filed her order with the Brainerd court system Friday, March 15.

Otey, of Cambridge, was indicted in February of 2018 by a Crow Wing County grand jury in Brainerd for 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.

Earlier this month, Otey pleaded not guilty by reason of mental illness and said he didn't know what he was doing at the time of the crime. During the March 8 court hearing, his case was placed in the hands of Judge Kristine DeMay, who at that time took the matter under advisement.

DeMay's review of the case found the prosecutor proved beyond a reasonable doubt Otey committed first-degree murder with premeditation. However, in reviewing Otey's defense of mental illness or deficiency, she found him not guilty by reason of mental illness.


In the court order, DeMay states the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office will have to file a petition to commit Otey and then he would be transferred and detained at a state hospital pending completion of court proceedings.

Public Defender Carly S. Vosacek, who represented Otey, said a not guilty ruling by the judge means the same thing as if Otey was acquitted of the crime by a jury in a trial. She said since the ruling was by reason of mental illness, the state will have to file the commitment order as the next step in the process.

"This ruling reflects the facts of the case and the reality of the case," Vosacek said of the judge's ruling. "This is the only fair and just outcome that could have happened on this case."

Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan, who prosecuted the case, offered no comment about the judge's ruling as the matter continues forward.

Case ruling

In the court-ordered evaluations to determine Otey's mental health, two doctors on separate occasions examined Otey and both reported he would qualify under the McNaughton rule, which states, "no person having a mental illness ... shall be ... sentenced or punished for any crime. But the person shall not be excused from criminal liability except upon proof that at the time of committing the alleged criminal act the person was laboring under such a defect of reason from one of these causes as to not know the nature of the act or that it was wrong."

The ruling went over Otey's mental health history. Otey has a history of bipolar disorder with periods of mania. Concurrent with the manic episodes, he also has experienced psychotic symptoms of delusions and hallucinations. Otey recalled a total of five hospital admissions for mania and delusions beginning in December 2011, following his arrest after he refused to pay a restaurant bill. His behaviors at the jail included being uncooperative, removing his clothing, defecating on the floor of his cell and refusing to eat. He also made reference of being told by Jesus to not cooperate with staff. He was admitted into the Cambridge Medical Center, where he refused to give any information and he appeared catatonic until given an injection. During his mental status exam, the treating psychiatrist noted "this man is floridly psychotic and most likely explanation is acute manic-psychotic episode."

In 2012 and 2017, civil commitment proceedings were started through Isanti County. In both cases he became sufficiently stable that the commitment proceedings were stayed.


Otey's mental health leading up to Johnson's death

On Dec. 25, 2017, Otey was again hospitalized after his wife expressed concerns of him experiencing manic behaviors, such as periods of euphoria, irritability, upset, anger and a drastic change in diet. When he arrived at the Cambridge hospital he was unresponsive in a catatonic state. After five hours he became responsive and stated he had been under a lot of stress, but could not recall the events of the night. He then entered another catatonic state and would not cooperate or respond to staff. Police records indicate during this stay he lunged at a nurse and began choking her.

He then went to Abbott Northwestern Hospital, where his wife indicated her concerns of his unpredictable behavior. He was discharged Jan. 2, 2018, and at this point his wife and four children had left him and went to stay with her parents.

On Jan. 9, 2018, Otey arrived at the emergency room expressing interest in restarting his medications. The week prior he discarded his medications after his discharge from Abbott. He was not sleeping or eating and he felt numb. Otey was stuck on one idea and had difficulty concentrating, the court document stated. Otey was not admitted to the hospital at that time because he denied any thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming others.

A follow-up at his clinic was scheduled the next day. During this appointment he reported symptoms of depression since his discharge. When asked about his manic symptoms, he relayed past experiences, but he did not report any current symptoms. He was given a dose of lithium, a smaller amount than what he normally took, and was told to come back in two weeks.

On Jan. 12, 2018, the night before the murder, Otey began experiencing paranoid thinking and was afraid to go home. He was scared for his life. He thought his sister was the only person who would not hurt him. When he arrived at her workplace the next day, he was still scared and paranoid, the court document stated.

At one point during the conversation, Johnson told him she didn't think she was going to go to heaven. In that moment, Otey grabbed her and a knife and he believed his faith was going to send her to heaven. He had little reaction when police arrived, the court documents stated.

When Otey was asked during the mental status interview about his delusions, he described the alleged offense as "... a weird command. A sudden, impulsive, right now." He did not experience auditory hallucinations at the time but had the thought to "grab her now."


Following his arrest, Otey resisted medications and jail staff observed and documented several concerning behaviors and statements he made. A jail mental health worker stated he often had "vacant eyes" as though "nobody was home." He repeatedly spoke with custody staff and told them he was "doing the work of God" and thought his sister was "OK with it."

Otey's wife told the doctor if he was in his right state of mind he would never have killed his sister. She stated he would not be violent with his sister or anyone else.

"It was not who he was and I know there was something going on in his brain that led to that," his wife stated in the document.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

In the court documents, where the state proved its case, it states Otey talked with his sister Jan. 12, 2018, on the phone and he said he was going to sacrifice himself. By the end of the conversation he promised her he would not hurt himself.

Otey was taking his medications for several years, but stopped on Dec. 25, 2017. The prosecution stated Otey's motive to kill his sister was because he was upset when she moved away and he did not get to see her anymore. He indicated he hated her for this and wanted to get back at her for leaving him and moving away and he wanted her to die, the court document stated. He also was mad at her for canceling their recent visit. He has had hatred for her on and off since they were young. He stated, "I just wanted her to die. Just because I hated her."

The court documents then described how he got her in a chokehold and then started stabbing her. "He said he kept stabbing her until the hate was gone and that did not go away until she had bled out," the document stated.

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTY
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