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No charges for elderly Minnesota ex-wrestler accused in attack

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MINNEAPOLIS - No charges will be filed against an elderly former pro wrestling champion in the death of a fellow dementia patient whom he attacked, prosecutors said Thursday.

Verne Gagne, 83, clearly lacked the mental capacity necessary to have intended to harm Helmut Gutmann, 97, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said. He said it would be unjust to bring charges.

Gagne had a confrontation with Gutmann in the memory loss unit at the Friendship Village retirement home in Bloomington on Jan. 26. Gutmann fell to the ground and suffered a broken hip, which was surgically repaired. But he died Feb. 14 of complications including pneumonia, the medical examiner said.

Freeman said it was "very clear from the medical personnel at Friendship Village and all of the people who observed the incident that Mr. Gagne, because of his dementia, simply lacks the capacity to intend the consequences of his actions."

The attack - which was not a wrestling body slam - happened quickly while the men were at a table, Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts said. It was more like "a push and a shove" and it caused Gutmann to fall, he said.

Neither man could remember the incident afterward.

Gagne owned the American Wrestling Association, which promoted pro wrestling on TV stations and in arenas across the Midwest from 1960 until it folded in 1991.

Gutmann's family understands that Gagne had no idea what he was doing, Freeman said.

Freeman said the Gagne family is "relieved, and they're very appreciative of the empathy and understanding of the victim's family."

Potts confirmed there had been at least two previous incidents at the home involving Gagne, and said police responded to one of them. He said Gagne and the other person involved were both taken to a hospital to be checked. He said the other incident was reported to police by the state health department but didn't warrant a criminal investigation.

Various licensing boards will investigate what happened at the retirement home. Freeman said that was routine and he doesn't plan criminal charges against the facility.

Gagne's son, Greg Gagne, and Gutmann's widow, Betty Gutmann, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Kay Miller, a vice president for Friendship Village's parent company in Des Moines, Iowa, Life Care Retirement Communities, said she couldn't comment for patient privacy reasons.

Gagne was moved to another care facility, his family has said.

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