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Is alcohol or psychosis behind multiple crashes, including a near-fatal one, and shootings in Fargo?  – InForum

Is alcohol or psychosis behind multiple crashes, including a near-fatal one, and shootings in Fargo? – InForum

Is alcohol or psychosis behind multiple crashes, including a near-fatal one, and shootings in Fargo?  – InForum

FARGO — It will be a month before the trial to determine whether a Fargo man is criminally responsible for causing several crashes, including a near-fatal one.

The trial of 30-year-old Maichael Kamal Yousa began Thursday, June 20, in Cass County District Court with testimony from two psychologists. The two mental health experts agree on almost every aspect of the case.

Dr. Michael Vitacco, a Georgia psychologist contracted by North Dakota State Hospital, found Yousa criminally responsible for causing several accidents on July 19, 2022, in Fargo, including one that nearly killed a motorcyclist. Alcohol was a major contributor to Yousa’s actions, Vitacco testified in court Thursday.

“We wouldn’t be here today if Mr. Yousa hadn’t been drinking at the level he was,” Vitacco said.

Dr. Jessica Mugge, a Fargo psychologist hired by the defense to evaluate Yousa, disagreed. Citing psychosis that had escalated over the years, Mugge testified that a “significant mental disturbance” affected Yousa’s sense of reality on July 19, 2022.

“His behavior was primarily influenced by his mental health symptoms,” she said, adding that he is not criminally responsible for the accidents.

Yousa is charged with attempted murder in connection with a crash on Interstate 29 near West Acres Mall that seriously injured Eric O’Meara. Yousa, who was driving a blue pickup, rear-ended O’Meara’s motorcycle at 100 mph, according to court documents.

O’Meara survived his life-threatening injuries.

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Dr. Michael Vitacco testifies in the trial of Maichael Yousa in Cass County Court, Thursday, June 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

After fleeing the accident, Yousa went to his apartment at 3131 34th St. Ave. S. near Essentia Hospital. There, he fired his gun into his apartment door, into the air from his balcony and at his truck, court documents said. He left the apartment before police arrived.

Officers tried to pull him over on 32nd Avenue South while he was driving, but he sped away, court documents said. Yousa caused four other crashes, including one on the Interstate 94 ramp at I-29 that caused his truck to overturn, according to court documents. The crash also forced a vehicle carrying a family of four off the road, court documents said.

North Dakota State Highway Patrol trooper Miles Rhonemus shot Yousa twice in the arm after Yousa fired his gun in the air, according to court documents. No one was injured in Yousa’s shooting.

Yousa has remained in custody at the Cass County Jail since his arrest. He also faces charges of aggravated assault, failure to stop or return to an accident, fleeing law enforcement, driving with a suspended license and nine counts of reckless endangerment.

Judge Stephannie Stiel will decide the case in lieu of a jury. Yousa faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of murder.

If found not guilty by reason of criminal liability, he will likely be treated at the State Hospital.

Alcohol or mental illness?

Typically, a trial of this complex could take several days. Prosecutors would call law enforcement and eyewitnesses to establish the facts of the case, present evidence and argue criminal liability. The defense will then get to challenge those facts with its own witnesses and arguments.

In a rare move, Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Younggren and defense attorneys Nicole Bredahl and Tracy Reames agreed the crashes and shootings happened, meaning the only witnesses called to testify Thursday were Drs. Vitacco and Mugge.

The only thing that remains to be decided is whether Yousa is guilty because he could understand the harm his actions caused, or whether he is not guilty because a mental illness prevents him from understanding what he did was wrong.

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Dr. Jessica Mugge testifies in the Maichael Yousa case in Cass County Court on Thursday, June 20, 2024.

David Samson/The Forum

Yousa told law enforcement and psychologists that he did not remember what happened. That memory loss is the result of psychosis, the defense argued, or drinking to the point of blackout, according to prosecutors.

Voluntary intoxication is not a defense to criminal liability in North Dakota. Yousa had been drinking before the crashes and had a blood-alcohol content of 0.133 percent, about twice the legal limit, when he was tested at a hospital after his arrest, Vitacco said.

Vitacco also noted a 2021 DUI conviction that resulted in a suspended license. Along with reports that Yousa drank heavily and often, Vitacco diagnosed Yousa with alcohol use disorder.

Unlike Vitacco, Mugge conducted psychological tests on Yousa and gathered medical reports that suggested he had been suffering from psychosis since 2016. He was hospitalized in 2010 for mental illness, Mugge said.

It’s important to collect such reports because they could give experts an idea of ​​how mental illness played out during the 2022 crashes, Mugge said. The mother of Yousa’s child also said she did not believe Yousa had been drinking, Mugge said.

She said there was not enough evidence to diagnose Yousa with alcohol abuse disorder.

Bredahl asked why Vitacco had not received previous mental health reports for Yousa. Initially, Vitacco said the reports were not important. Instead, he said he focused on Yousa’s mental health at the time of the accident, he said.

Vitacco later said he didn’t know there were reports because Yousa didn’t tell him about them.

Vitacco acknowledged that Yousa had significant mental health problems, but questioned whether they played a major role in the accidents. Yousa didn’t act violently until the accidents, and that’s when he drank alcohol, Vitacco said.

“My opinion is that Yousa is criminally responsible in this case and it’s not just the result of mental illness,” Vitacco said.

Yousa continued to act out violently when he didn’t have access to alcohol while in prison, Mugge said. That suggests mental health played a role in his violent behavior, she said.

The prosecution and defense had originally expected to wrap up the trial on Thursday, but Mugge and Vitacco were given a month to amend their reports.

Attorneys will return to court on Aug. 2, when Mugge and Vitacco may present more testimony. A decision in this case will likely come days or weeks after that.