Heath Otto is escorted to court in the Minnehaha County Jail on Monday. Otto is accused of killing his 48-year-old mother and a 7-year-old boy. (Photo: Jay Pickthorn/Argus Leader)
A Sioux Falls man on trial for charges he killed his mother and nephew to “take away their pain” four years ago decided to do so while on a breakfast doughnut run.
Heath Allen Otto said he felt he did the right thing because they were going to keep hurting, and decided to end his mother’s and nephew’s misery from their respective medical needs when he was at Walmart buying doughnuts and Dr. Pepper for breakfast on Nov. 20, 2016, according to a video of an hour-and-a-half long interview with police played at the first day of his court trial Monday morning.
A psychiatrist later testified that Otto was under an ongoing schizophrenic delusion that his actions were at the direction of the CIA, and that his orders were to kill “Winnie the Pooh” and B.O., who were his mother and nephew.
Otto, 28, faces two charges of first-degree murder in connection to his family members’ deaths in their northern Sioux Falls home. Monday is the first of a scheduled two-day court trial, or a trial heard by a judge and not a jury. Otto entered a not guilty by reason of insanity plea Monday.
The state had previously said it intended to seek the death penalty, but withdrew that, according to proceedings Monday.
Law enforcement who responded to the mobile home park on Nov. 20, 2016, testified to the details of the scene and initial interviews with Otto, who was later deemed incompetent to stand trial. He has since received treatment at the state-run Human Services Center in Yankton and is able to understand the charges against him.
Otto told an arriving officer he was “three different entities” when he was asked his name, the since-retired sheriff’s office sergeant Gerald Winter testified. Otto mentioned having three entities with him in an initial interview with a detective.
During that interview, which was played over a television in the courtroom, Otto was often crying and said he wanted to end their pain because nobody else cared about them. He said he loved them but didn’t want them to feel pain anymore.
In the interview with Derek Kuchenreuther, who was a detective for the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Office at the time, Otto detailed his morning, his decision to kill his mother, Carol Simon, and 7-year-old nephew, Brayden Otto.
Otto told Kuchenreuther in the video interview that he had watched movies the Saturday night before the killings: “Mrs. Doubtfire,” “Gulliver’s Travels,” part of “Payback,” some cartoons and “Peter Pan.” He had chicken alfredo for dinner and went to bed. He said his nephew was dropped off by his sister around 3:30 a.m. on her way to work, and his nephew went to sleep for a few hours.
In later testimony with a psychiatrist who conducted evaluations on Otto, a scene from “Mrs. Doubtfire” was connected to the onset of his actions. Otto had regular delusions that his actions were at the bidding of the CIA and would prevent World War III, the psychiatrist testified.
Around 9 a.m. that Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, Otto went to Walmart to get doughnuts for breakfast and Dr. Pepper. He went back in a second time to get his mother Diet Pepsi and an Almond Joy candy bar because he knew they were her favorites, and he wanted her to enjoy them before she died, according to the interview played in court.
“I love them so much,” he said in the video interview. “I feel their pain, and I hurt. I didn’t know what else to do, sir, I feel it, too.”
Otto shared his use of a phone charging cord to strangle Simon and Brayden and demonstrated the action he took when using a serrated kitchen knife.
Otto said he watched an episode of “Golden Girls” before hitting a panic alarm button to alert police to come to the residence.
Otto, who has schizophrenia, had hallucinations around the time of the homicide, a psychologist from the Human Services Center testified at a November 2019 competency hearing. Otto can now understand he was under a hallucination and has a “fuller realization of what happened,” according to that hearing. In the interview with law enforcement played at the trial, he said that “they say I’m a little nuts,” but that he doesn’t have a mental illness.
Otto appeared via conference video from the Human Services Center in Yankton. Several family members of Otto watched court proceedings via Zoom.
Second Circuit Court Judge Bradley Zell is proceeding over the trial. The state rested its case Monday afternoon, and testimony for the insanity defense began with the psychiatrist who evaluated Otto. Testimony was expected to continue Tuesday.
Email reporter Danielle Ferguson at [email protected], or follow on Twitter at @DaniFergs.
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