A defense attorney for a Le Center man charged with second-degree murder and first-degree arson announced they intend to pursue a defense by reason of mental illness or cognitive impairment at a review hearing Friday.
The accused 26-year-old Hardy Robert Wills-Traxler (25 at the time of the alleged crime) was arrested in January under suspicion of stabbing his father Bruce Alan Traxler, 64, and then burning down their shed with the body inside.
Wills-Traxler was previously found incompetent to stand trial, but a psychiatrist recently found that he is now competent. Judge Patrick M. Biren accepted that ruling, allowing the case to move forward.
In a hearing before the judge, both the prosecuting attorney, Assistant Attorney General Daniel Vlieger, on behalf of the state, and defense attorney Richard Ohlenberg requested the next hearing be pushed back past March 2022 to make time for Wills-Traxler’s commitment hearing.
Vlieger said this case was unique, because so far because psychiatrists have had difficulty narrowing down Wills-Traxler’s condition to a specific diagnosis.
The defense also intends to request a mental examination in conjunction with their pursuit of a defense by mental illness. An independent examiner appointed by the court would be tasked with relaying their diagnostic opinion and, if requested, offer their assessment of Wills-Traxler’s cognitive awareness at the time of the alleged crime and if he could determine right from wrong.
Both attorneys agreed that information from the civil commitment process and the mental examination could be useful for the prosecution and the defense. Biren concurred with the attorney’s reasoning and pushed back the next hearing until April 2022.
It’s the first murder case in Le Sueur County since January 2014 when Jonas David Nelson, then 18, shot his father in the head as he slept on the floor of their rural Montgomery home. Nelson, convicted in August 2015, is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. He claimed his father was too strict and wanted to get out from under his thumb.
According to a criminal complaint filed in January, Bruce Alan Traxler’s remains were found by firefighters responding to a shed fire at 37722 Hunting Preserve Lane, Le Center at approximately 8:45 a.m.
Wills-Traxler allegedly fled the scene of the fire in a 2007 Toyota. Investigators said they received multiple tips of a man matching Wills-Traxler’s description telling people on the road that “he killed his father.”
Following Wills-Traxler’s arrest at a traffic stop in Mankato, law enforcement said the suspect admitted to killing his father after the two got into an argument the night before.
According to the complaint, Wills-Traxler told investigators he was scared and grabbed a knife. He told his father that he wasn’t scared of him, but the argument became physical. Traxler then hit his son on the shoulder and Wills-Traxler reportedly responded by stabbing him with the knife multiple times. Wills-Traxler said that he stabbed his father in the heart and reportedly commented that “it was weird.”
Traxler reportedly fell unconscious after the stabbing and Wills-Traxler said he “was just gone.”
An autopsy concluded Traxler had been stabbed multiple times, with stab wounds found in the left and right chest areas and the abdomen. An examination of Wills-Traxler did not find any evidence of bruising on his shoulder.
Wills-Traxler told investigators he then gathered his belongings and washed the blood from his hands. He then stuffed pillows on the stove and turned on the burners. After the flames were lit, he drove away.
He “had to get out of there” and “get on with his life,” Wills-Traxler allegedly told investigators. He said that he was sorry and that he never wanted it to be that way.