LE MARS, Iowa -- The evidence was circumstantial and no motive was given during Thomas Bibler's trial, but a judge on Friday ruled that the Le Mars man fatally stabbed his sister.
"The court is convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Thomas Bibler is the person who stabbed and caused the death of his sister, Shannon Bogh," District Judge Jeffrey Neary wrote in his verdict.
But rather than finding Bibler guilty of first-degree murder as charged, Neary ruled him guilty of second-degree murder. Neary said the defense had proven its claim that Bibler was involuntarily intoxicated, under the influence of a sleeping aid at the time of Bogh's death.
Though Neary said he believed that Bibler stabbed Bogh, his intoxication prevented him from forming the specific intent to commit the crime, one of the elements required by state law to prove first-degree murder. Neary found Bibler not guilty of willful injury and going armed with intent for the same reason. Specific intent is not an element needed to prove second-degree murder.
"The court specifically finds that Bibler did not act in a premeditated manner and that he lacked the specific intent to kill Shannon Bogh as a result of his use of a sleep aid in conjunction with an antidepressant, which prevented him from being able to form the specific intent to commit murder in the first degree," Neary wrote in his 32-page verdict, filed shortly after Neary announced his findings in open court. Bibler had waived his right to a jury trial and chose to have Neary decide the case.
Neary scheduled sentencing for Feb. 22 in Plymouth County District Court. Bibler faces a prison sentence of 50 years in prison. Had he been found guilty of first-degree murder, he would have received a mandatory lifetime prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
Bibler's attorney, public defender Billy Oyadare, declined to comment on the verdict.
Bibler, 36, of Le Mars, stabbed Bogh June 11, 2016, while they talked outside her Le Mars home. An autopsy showed that Bogh, 27, died of internal bleeding after a major vein in her chest was cut by a sharp object. Authorities never located the knife or other object used to stab her.
During the trial, which took place in July and, after a three-month break, concluded on Nov. 1, Bibler testified that he had taken an Ambien sleeping pill left over from a previous prescription and other prescription drugs the night his sister died and didn't remember anything from that night. A psychologist testified for the defense that the sleeping drug could have caused Bibler to slip into a hypnotic state and would explain his memory loss.
Oyadare had also raised the possibility that Bogh's husband, Philip, committed the crime because he was the beneficiary of a $150,000 life insurance policy and also would receive her share of an inheritance left to her and Bibler after their father died. Neary ruled that Philip Bogh did not kill his wife.
Bibler's stepmother, Bonnie Clark, said Friday that the distribution of their father's estate had caused some hard feelings between Bibler and his sister. Clark said Bibler did not receive his father's motorcycle and believed he received a smaller portion of the money left to them.
"People are going to think the worst of him, but they don't understand all what happened with the will," Clark said.
Plymouth County Attorney Darin Raymond presented evidence showing a series of frustrating events for Bibler throughout the day of Bogh's death culminated in the stabbing. He had had a disagreement with his ex-wife concerning visitation with his children. Witnesses testified that Bibler had muttered threats to a co-worker at a local restaurant while they worked in a hot kitchen, where another co-worker had been teasing Bibler throughout the evening. Another co-worker testified that he saw a knife in Bibler's pocket. Bibler's supervisor said she sent him home early because she could tell he was upset.
Raymond attempted to debunk the intoxication defense, calling a psychologist who testified that several studies have linked Ambien to sudden violent acts, including homicide, committed by users who had no memory of committing them.