DARLINGTON — Whether the confession of Armin D. Wand III to state investigators will be allowed as evidence in his intentional homicide trial will be decided by Green County Circuit Judge Thomas Vale in the next few weeks.
Wand faces four counts of first-degree intentional homicide, three counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and one count of arson in connection with the Sept. 7 house fire that killed Wand’s three sons — Allen, 7, Jeffrey, 5 and Joseph, 3 — and the Wands’ unborn baby, and injured Wand’s wife, Sharon, and their daughter, Jessica, 2.
A day-long court hearing, nearly three hours of which was closed to the public, was held in Lafayette County Circuit Court Thursday.
According to the criminal complaint, Armin and his brother, Jeremy, 18, began planning three days before the fire to burn down the house so Armin Wand could collect on life insurance policies on the lives of Sharon Wand and their children and make a “fresh start.”
Wand told Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation agents that “he was tired of his family struggling from day to day, living from check to check, and Sharon always complaining about wanting more money and … never satisfied with the amount of money that was available for the family.”
The criminal complaint said Armin Wand suggested starting a house fire that would appear to be electrical in cause, similar to the fire that occurred at his house in April. Armin Wand agreed to pay Jeremy Wand $300 from the life insurance settlement, according to the criminal complaint.
The closed portions featured testimony via telephone from Dr. Kent Berney, a Madison psychologist, and one hour of testimony by Wand.
Wand’s attorney, Guy Taylor, moved to close Berney’s and Wand’s testimony on the grounds that “the potential for prejudicial publicity, particularly video of the defendant, is high. … There isn’t an affirmative right of access for pretrial hearings” under federal law.
Assistant Attorney General Richard Dufour opposed “closure of this hearing in any part,” saying that under federal law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions both the defendant and the public are entitled to public trials.
Vale said that because “a pretrial hearing is not part of the trial” closing a pretrial hearing was “permissible under the law,” and that “the gist of all of our rules is to give a fair trial to the defendant.”
Part of the concern over pretrial publicity is because questionnaires have been sent to potential jurors in Marathon County. Jury selection is scheduled for Feb. 22, with the trial beginning Feb. 23.
The open part of the hearing featured special agents from DCI who interviewed Wand the day of the fire and two days afterward.
Prosecutors introduced two pieces of evidence to suggest that Wand was not coerced into making a confession and that he understood what was happening when authorities interviewed him. The first was his previous criminal record, which includes a 1999 conviction for forgery, a felony, and misdemeanor convictions for battery, knowingly violating a child abuse order, and issuing worthless checks, plus several civil citations.
The second piece of evidence was records of telephone calls from the Lafayette County Jail to the cellphones of DCI agents after agents arrested Wand.
Special Agent Jim Sielehr, who investigated the fire, said Armin Wand was “very cooperative and wanted to do whatever he could to help.”
Wand, however, “clearly had some concerns about what was going to happen to him next” after Sielehr challenged some of Wand’s statements, and “I could tell he was nervous, that he wanted those questions answered before he’d continue,” he said. At that point, Sielehr arrested Wand and read him his Miranda rights.
Sielehr and Special Agent Brad Montgomery testified they gave Wand their business cards after arresting him, and told him he’d have to contact them if he wanted to discuss the fire further.
Wand’s defense attorneys contended the DCI agents did either coerce or threaten Wand to get him to confess, and that Wand was impaired because he didn’t have his glasses while he was being interviewed.
“Did you say you’re going to have to stand in judgment some day for what you’re doing, not only to God but to your children?” asked defense attorney Jason Daane.
“Yes,” replied Sielehr.
Daane asked if Sielehr said he would “help him get past this” if Wand told the truth. Sielehr replied, “Yes.”
“And that’s not a promise?” asked Daane.
“No,” said Sielehr.
Special Agent Jesse Crowe interviewed Wand four times at UW Hospital in Madison, where Sharon Wand was taken, the day of the fire.
At one point, Crowe said, agents brought Jeremy and Armin Wand together, because “we wanted to have Armin confront him about information Jeremy provided us, because he was denying it.”
Jeremy Wand was arrested for bail jumping early Sept. 8.
Montgomery testified that during the interview Wand said “it was Jeremy’s idea to set the fire.” After seeing the two Wands at the hospital, he said, “I thought it odd that the day after his family dies, he’s buddy–buddy with the guy he knows set the fire, the guy he said earlier in the interview knows he set the fire.”
Special Agent Lourdes Fernandez interviewed Wand at the Lafayette County Jail Sept. 9 after, she testified, Wand tried to call Sielehr and Montgomery.
“He advised us that he wanted to clarify some things,” said Fernandez, adding that Wand discussed his finances.
When asked by agents, Fernandez said, Wand completed a diagram of the living room of the house, adding furniture and putting Xs to indicate where the fires started.
When Fernandez asked Wand for a demonstration of right and wrong, she said he replied, “It was wrong for the fire to be set and for him to have a part in it.”
Jeremy Wand’s next court hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20.