Doctors: Man not fit to stand trial in OWI death

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Nico Savidge
Monday, August 19, 2013

JANESVILLE—A Janesville man is not likely to stand trial on charges of drunken-driving homicide after two doctors' evaluations found a traumatic brain injury has left him unable to assist in his own defense.

Prosecutors asked that Judge Kenneth Forbeck suspend proceedings against 54-year-old Bruce R. Hohenstein at a hearing Monday in Rock County Circuit Court, where he was charged with driving drunk in a March crash that killed 33-year-old Amy K. Johnson of Fitchburg.

Attorneys cited two court-ordered competency evaluations that found Hohenstein suffers from dementia and short-term memory loss—the result of a motorcycle crash in the late-1980s.

Hohenstein's attorney, Nicholas Rifelj, said the injuries would “severely limit” Hohenstein's ability to understand court proceedings and assist in his defense.

The doctors also concluded it is not likely Hohenstein will become competent for trial any time soon.

“It's far more likely that he is going to lose brain function as time goes on,” Assistant District Attorney Scott Dirks said.

Forbeck accepted the doctors' report and discharged Hohenstein from the criminal proceedings.

Hohenstein did not speak at Monday's hearing.

He had been charged with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and causing injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle, and he faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Hohenstein had a blood-alcohol concentration more than twice the legal limit March 3  when his pickup truck crossed the center line of Highway 11 and crashed head-on into Johnson's car, according to a criminal complaint.

Johnson was killed in the crash. A passenger in her car, 20-year-old Paige Morfey of Janesville, suffered cuts and broken bones, authorities said.

Although he recognized that Hohenstein cannot stand trial, Forbeck said he was concerned about letting Hohenstein go without any conditions—particularly when it came to drinking and driving.

“What's to prevent him from doing that again and forgetting about it?” Forbeck said. “We have to do something to prevent that.”

So Forbeck ordered Hohenstein to return to court for a review hearing in February and kept in place conditions of his bond that he not consume alcohol or drive.

Authorities will work to move Hohenstein into a county-managed guardianship program, where a family member would look after him, Rifelj said.

“I don't think there's any hope of regaining competency,” Rifelj said.

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