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Psychologist testifies for defense in Dahl trial

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region Park Rapids, 56470

Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

Darin Dahl was suffering from "serious distortions of reality" during a 22-hour standoff with law enforcement, a psychologist who testified for the defense said Thursday.

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"It was my opinion that Darin had serious difficulty understanding what was going on that night," Dr. Stacey Benson told jurors on the third day of Dahl's trial on charges of attempted murder and felony reckless endangerment.

Dahl, 35, Cooperstown, N.D., is accused of firing on officers -- hitting one in the helmet -- while holed up in a Luverne, N.D., house in April 2008.

Benson, who was paid a flat fee by the defense to evaluate Dahl, said some evidence suggests he comprehended the consequences of his actions but that there's also evidence to the contrary.

Prosecutor Charlie Stock has argued that Dahl understood the situation. To re-emphasize that point Thursday, Stock took jurors through a negotiator's log from the standoff and found 25 instances where Dahl referenced law enforcement, criminal charges and prison time.

The prosecution's psychologist is set to testify today, with closing arguments and jury deliberation to follow.

In addition to guilty and not guilty verdicts, jurors are expected to have the third option of finding Dahl not guilty due to a mental defect on both charges.

Benson said Dahl suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and has been hospitalized for mental health issues at least three times in the past. She said she believes he was not taking anti-psychotic medication around the time standoff.

Crisis negotiator Marcia Procopio testified that Dahl made 25 to 30 comments about committing suicide while she spoke with him on the phone during the standoff.

Patricia Wasmuth, another negotiator who spoke with Dahl, told the jury that she heard him crying after a recorded message from a friend was played over the phone.

"I think it was a difficult time for him, and his emotions were coming out," she said.

Wasmuth said she gave him instructions on how to surrender, and when he finally did, he was "quiet" and "very compliant."

For jurors, Stock played a recording of agents interviewing Dahl after the standoff. Authorities have testified that tear gas was fired into the house and two "less-lethal" projectiles were fired at Dahl during the incident.

Dahl told the agents he thought real guns were being shot at him in attempt to kill him.

"Whoever was shooting at me, I was just returning fire -- self-defense as far as I'm concerned," Dahl told them.

Asked by his interrogators if he shot at an officer, Dahl replied: "He was shooting at me, too."

At a prior sentencing, Dahl had an outburst and threw a pen at a judge. During this trial, with his hands and feet shackled, he has been, for the most part, tranquil. During a morning recess Thursday, when jurors were not in the courtroom, he raised his voice at a deputy when discussing a few pieces of mail he was trying to send from jail.

"No!" he shouted at the deputy. "Let me have the last word!"

Defense attorney Blake Hankey came over to talk to his client, saying, "Let's just get through this."

Shortly after, a deputy brought in some sort of medication, which Dahl took.

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