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Insane Moorhead rest stop stabber doesn't get prison sentence in plea deal

Harmit Bhangu

MOORHEAD -- A man who said God told him to kill the truck driver he stabbed eight to 10 times at a Moorhead rest stop in January will get no prison time for the attack.

Harmit Bhangu, 33, was found not guilty by reason of insanity on a charge of second-degree attempted murder Thursday in Clay County District Court, a verdict by Judge Michael Kirk that the prosecutor did not challenge in order to strike a plea deal forcing Bhangu to be deported.

County Attorney Brian Melton offered no evidence to contest a determination by a state psychiatrist that Bhangu's psychotic behavior - diagnosed as schizophreniform disorder, a precursor to schizophrenia - showed he was unable to understand the nature of his crimes.

Bhangu told police that he stabbed Dale Morigeau on Jan. 11 because God told him the fellow truck driver was an evil abnormal giant, and God wanted him to kill evil people to save the U.S. and Canada. He also told officers he got messages from God via his long hair and that a turban he wore was impervious to bullets and swords.

Melton said he consulted several doctors for second opinions and they agreed with the assessment of Dr. Andrei Nemoianu, a forensic psychiatrist at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

Prosecutors already tried to have Bhangu committed to the state hospital earlier this year. Doctors released him after several months of treatment, saying Bhangu was mentally ill but not dangerous, a decision that Melton called "absurd."

"In my mind, we tried to do the right thing the first time," he said.

Because he already was deemed not dangerous, it's likely Bhangu would have gone free shortly after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Defendants found not guilty on those grounds are examined for commitment, but Bhangu was rejected for commitment in August.

So instead of fighting the insanity defense, Melton cut a deal with Bhangu's lawyer, Kenneth Kludt. He wouldn't contest the defense on attempted murder as long as Bhangu agreed to plead guilty to one of the two assault charges he also faced for striking a police detective while being question about the stabbing.

After Kirk found Bhangu not guilty on attempted murder, Bhangu entered the guilty plea to fourth-degree assault. The other assault charge was dropped as part of the deal.

Melton said Bhangu will be sentenced at a later date to the time he's served in jail since the attack. Upon sentencing, he'll be held on an immigration hold until he's deported. The assault conviction requires automatic deportation and bars Bhangu from ever returning to the U.S., Melton said.

Given the legal "catch-22," deportation was the best option from a public-safety perspective, Melton said, though he admitted it was frustrating.

Bhangu was working in Canada, having been given permanent residency after moving to Calgary in 2003. He is originally from India, and he practices the Sikh religion. Bhangu plans on being deported to Canada or India, Kludt said.

Morigeau sustained stab wounds to his legs, arms, hands, shoulders and chest and needed heart surgery after the early afternoon stabbing. A phone number for the Ronan, Mont., truck driver couldn't be found.