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Shakopee beheading case headed toward mental illness verdict

Alexis Saborit is expected to stipulate to the elements of first-degree premeditated murder and present his mental illness defense on Wednesday.

SHAKOPEE, Minn — It was a disgusting, unthinkable crime.

America Thayer, a 51-year-old woman, was beaten to death and beheaded, her body dumped on the side of a busy Shakopee street.

Her boyfriend, Alexis Saborit, who was charged and later indicted for first-degree premeditated murder.

Now, after two psychological evaluations of the defendant, the Scott County Attorney acknowledges the case is headed toward a likely finding of not guilty by reason of mental illness, followed by civil commitment hearings to determine Saborit's future.

On Wednesday, court filings indicate Saborit will waive his right to a jury and hold a stipulated facts trial before Judge Caroline Lennon. 

In the two-stage trial for defendants using multiple defenses, Lennon would likely find Saborit guilty in the first phase without any witnesses called to testify. But the mental illness stage of the trial, the only person on the state's witness list is Dr. Andrea Lovett of Morningstar Psychological Service.

The Scott County Attorney's Office retained Lovett in June 2022 to perform a mental evaluation of Saborit — a second opinion — after the court-ordered psychologist's report indicated an unfavorable opinion for prosecutors.

According to the Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure, mental examination reports include a diagnosis of the defendant's mental condition as well as "an opinion as to whether, because of mental illness or cognitive impairment, the defendant, at the time of committing the alleged criminal act, was laboring under such a defect of reason as not to know the nature of the act or that it was wrong."

Scott County Attorney Ron Hocevar said the second psychologist's opinion did not differ from the first, which puts prosecutors in a difficult position when hoping to put Saborit away in prison for life without parole — which a premeditated murder conviction would accomplish.

Instead, if Judge Lennon follows the reports of the two psychologists, she most likely would find Saborit not guilty by reason of mental illness in the second stage of the trial. 

"Because what you have to show is that the person was under such severe defect of mind that they didn't know what they were doing at the time or didn't appreciate the consequences of their actions," said high-profile criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who's not involved in this case.

Tamburino said it is very uncommon for a defendant in a first-degree murder case to be found not guilty by reason of mental illness, but in reviewing the case files, it appears the prosecution did what they could.

Tamburino said although a judge's finding of not guilty by reason of mental illness would not result in any prison time, the state would begin civil commitment hearings in hopes of Saborit being ruled "mentally ill and dangerous," and committed indefinitely at a hospital.

The family of the victim is very upset with what's going on with Alexis Saborit's case. They want to see him in prison. And said they know how manipulative he can be, especially after all the years of abuse in the relationship.

"The abuse is so much that you can't even air. Some of the things that I could describe to you," Charles Thayer said in a prior interview with KARE 11.

Saborit was convicted of a domestic violence charge against Thayer. And the U.S. government attempted to deport him after a prior charge involving a knife and a different girlfriend.

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