A juror from the panel that decided an insanity defense in a triple homicide case said Friday that jurors' intentions were clear — that Dan Popp should be held criminally responsible and go to prison, not a secure mental hospital.
Jerry Biggart, who served as jury foreman, spoke Friday, a day after the trial ended with confusion about the verdict forms and a judge's decision to withhold judgment.
To find a defendant not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, at least 10 jurors agree the defendant is both ill and that because of the illness, he "lacked the substantial capacity" to know his actions were wrong, or to act lawfully even when he realizes his action is wrong.
On the initial verdict form in Popp's case, the jury circled "Yes" as the answer to both questions: was he mentally ill, and did the illness prevent him knowing his actions were wrong, or from resisting them. The votes appeared to be 11-1 on the first issue and 10-2 on the second.
But after getting the verdicts Thursday afternoon, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Conen conferred with the lawyers instead of announcing them to the court. Later, he asked the jury to clarify its verdicts on some new forms, and in about five minutes the jury returned the new forms.
Now it was 11-1 that Popp was ill, but 10-2 that he nevertheless could have known the murders were wrong or stopped himself from killing the victims on March 6, 2016.
Biggart said he was in the dissent on the second point, that but the majority was clear all along that they wanted Popp to go to prison, not a hospital.
Popp's attorney, Christopher Hartley, plans to challenge the results. "I think the second verdict is null and void," he said. "My motion will be to accept the first verdict, and if that's not granted, I'll have to argue against the second."
Conen set a hearing on post-verdict motions for January. In the meantime, Popp remains jailed. If the jury's verdict stands, he would face mandatory life imprisonment. If found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, he would be committed indefinitely to a secure state mental hospital.
Popp, 41, had pleaded no contest in September to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of Phia and Mai Vue and Jesus Manso-Perez, and one of attempted homicide for shooting at Manso-Perez's son, inside the four-unit apartment building near S. 92nd St. and W. Beloit Road where they all lived.
He also pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. At Popp's penalty phase trial, Manso-Perez's son and the Vue's teenage daughter testified about how Popp shot their parents. He confronted Manso-Perez and his son in the hallway and shot the father in the face. The son was able to escape a second shot aimed at him.
Then Popp broke into the Vues' apartment. The victims and their four children, and the children's aunt, were hiding in a bedroom. Popp pulled out Phai Vue and shot him in the bathroom, then told the rest of the family to follow him upstairs to his apartment. He later killed Mai Vue upstairs, but did not physically harm her two youngest children.
The couple's son had escaped out the bedroom window, and their oldest daughter and her aunt ran outside from the main hallway.
Popp was arrested without incident outside the building a few minutes later. Jurors saw video of him acting strangely in a police wagon and during attempted interrogations with detectives, but also heard his phone calls from the jail days and weeks later in which he sounded more coherent.
Two court-appointed mental health experts testified that Popp, who had been involuntarily committed at the county mental health complex for eight days in 2008, suffered from bipolar disorder and some schizophrenia, and was under the delusion at the time of the killings that his victims were "cybernetic" terminators there to harm children.
Both experts felt Popp was not faking his condition, and met the standard for Wisconsin's insanity defense.
In closing arguments, Hartley called the evidence overwhelming, but Assistant District Attorney Paul Tiffin reminded the jury the experts' opinions are only advisory and the jury makes the decision.
After the verdict, members of the Vue family, and other Hmong-American advocates held a news conference. They talked of their grief and of frustrations that Popp could even raise an insanity defense.
Txoos Vang, Mai Zue's father, spoke in Hmong about coming to America in 1988, choosing to live in Wisconsin and raising his family, which now includes 26 grandchildren. His son translated to English, saying that the crimes have left Vang angry and disappointed in America.
Mai Zue's younger sister, Khou Xiong, and her husband Dan are now raising the dead couple's children, who all appeared with her at the news conference. She said her sister had just earned a degree in logistics, and her family was planning to buy a house in Oshkosh.