A Brooklyn Park man drove into a neighbor last week and killed him because voices in his head told him to, according to murder charges filed Wednesday.
Christopher D. Rice, 46, was charged Wednesday in Hennepin County District Court with one count each of second-degree murder with intent, second-degree murder without intent and criminal vehicular homicide.
Rice is accused of killing Paul Pfeifer about 10:30 p.m. on June 12 in the 9500 block of Scott Lane.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said in an interview that it's rare for his office to file intentional murder charges in deaths involving vehicles. His office on Wednesday also charged Nicholas Kraus with second-degree intentional murder and two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon for the unrelated death of Deona M. Knajdek and injury of others at a protest in Uptown.
"We've taken unusually stern steps in these cases," Freeman said.
Criminal vehicular homicide, the more typical charge in vehicle fatalities, carries a maximum prison term of 10 years while second-degree murder carries a maximum of 40 years. Freeman said in these two cases the charge would carry a term of between 15 and 30 years. State sentencing guidelines govern the length of time based on a defendant's criminal history.
Court documents show that Rice has a history of mental health issues, was civilly committed in 2019 and was found incompetent to stand trial in a pending first-degree aggravated robbery case from last year. He is currently under civil commitment and diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and bipolar with catatonia, court documents said.
Despite the civil commitment, which involves holding defendants at a secure treatment facility for 60 days before a review for possible release, Rice had been provisionally discharged to his home, Freeman said. Paperwork to revoke his discharge was being processed the day before Pfeifer was killed because Rice had problems following the conditions of his release, which involved following up with his doctor and taking medication, Freeman said.
"There is a gap between the criminal justice system and mental health, and we in the Hennepin County Attorney's Office recognize that," Freeman said, adding he and others have unsuccessfully urged legislators to address the problem. "It is a real issue that the system simply must focus on directly, and perhaps this tragic case will help us do that."
According to the criminal complaint against Rice: Pfeifer was getting his mail when he was struck by a black SUV at the end of his driveway.
Witnesses told police the SUV fled. The vehicle was found parked near the scene registered to a woman who lived in the area.
The woman arrived at the scene amid the investigation and told police that her live-in boyfriend, Rice, had access to the SUV. She let police into her home, where they found Rice.
"Defendant was mumbling to himself and incoherent," the charges said. "Defendant told officers he hears things and sees lights. Defendant then admitted to driving and hitting somebody. Defendant told officers he is controlled by a man and the man controlled him to hit the victim with his vehicle."
After his arrest, Rice told police that he has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and that he had not taken his medication for more than a month, the charges said.
"Defendant stated that while driving his vehicle, he saw a male at a mailbox," according to the complaint. "Defendant stated that the voices in his head told him that the person by the mailbox had done something bad to Defendant's mother."
Rice told police the voice instructed him to strike the victim, and that he had seen Pfeifer in the neighborhood but did not know him personally.
Rice told police he went to bed after striking Pfeifer.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Pfeifer's husband, Joseph Pfeifer St. James, said that "hate is what killed him."
In an Instagram post, Pfeifer's nephew said his uncle was the "victim of hate" when he was intentionally run over.
"Today our family is grieving, deeply. Amidst this grief we are pleading for this level of hate to end," AJ Mansour wrote.
Freeman said in an interview that Rice's alleged harassment of Pfeifer is being investigated, and that he could not reveal additional details.
However, Freeman said, there is no evidence that Rice or Kraus were motivated by bias.
Knajdek and others were protesting the June 3 officer-involved killing of Winston Boogie Smith Jr. when they were killed and injured by Kraus.
"There is no meaningful evidence that we have discovered so far that these were anything other than intentional, absurdly violent acts against people," Freeman said. "Mr. Rice has got underlying mental issues and that certainly was part of what caused him to mow down his neighbor with the car, and Mr. Kraus has significant alcohol issues and we're not sure what else."
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708