DARLINGTON — The trial of Armin G. Wand III on four counts of first-degree intentional homicide ended one week before it was scheduled to begin.
Wand, 33, Argyle, reached a plea agreement with state prosecutors in the two days after some of his statements to state investigators were ruled inadmissible for his trial by Green County Circuit Judge Thomas Vale Wednesday afternoon.
In Lafayette County Circuit Court Friday afternoon, Wand pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of his three sons, Allen, 7, Jeffrey, 5, and Joseph, 3. Wand also pleaded guilty to an amended count of felony murder for the death of the Wands’ unborn baby as a result of the house fire.
Wand also pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted first-degree intentional homicide for injuries in the house fire to Wand’s wife, Sharon. Wand also pleaded guilty to a charge of arson for the house fire in Argyle Sept. 7.
Two counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide were dismissed but will be used as read-ins at sentencing. Those two charges were for injuries to the Wands’ daughter, Jessica, 2, and for Armin Wand’s alleged attempt to put Jessica back in the house after Sharon Wand got her out of the house.
Wand will be sentenced on the charges April 17 at 1:30 p.m. The first-degree intentional homicide charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. The maximum sentences on the other charges are 60 years for attempted first-degree intentional homicide, 40 years for arson, and 15 years for felony murder.
The pleas brought to a halt the trial that was scheduled to start with jury selection Friday.
“We were prepared to go to trial,” said Wand’s attorney, Guy Taylor, after the hearing. “We were committed to the trial, and we had not anticipated that there would be any movement — neither side, and there was movement on both sides, and that’s how the agreement was achieved.”
“I’m never surprised by what may happen in a case,” said Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte. “But these calls are the defendant’s call. Regardless of the results of Wednesday’s hearing, we were ready to go to trial.”
Korte said the only sentencing agreement is that the felony murder and arson sentences will be served concurrently.
Korte said Wand also agreed to testify against his brother, Jeremy — who faces four first-degree intentional homicide charges, two counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and one count of arson — if Armin Wand is called to testify. Korte afterward called the agreement “some additional evidence that the state will now have to deal with in the other case.”
Jeremy Wand’s next court appearance is set for today at 1:30 p.m.
Korte said the plea agreement was in the best interests of justice because “the defendant will be accepting responsibility for his conduct,” and because the agreement “avoids or at least reduces the trauma that would be faced by Sharon Wand in testifying to the death of her children.”
Armin Wand slowly answered “guilty” to each of the six charges when Vale asked him to enter a plea.”
When Vale asked Wand what a life sentence meant, Wand answered, “that I’ll be staying in prison until I pass on.”
When Vale asked Wand why he wanted to plead guilty to the charges, Wand answered, “because … I want to take responsibility and save the county some money … and saving Sharon from testifying.”
The April 17 sentencing will be after the Department of Corrections completes a presentence investigation of Wand.
Vale also ordered that Wand’s $1.4 million bail be revoked. Wand has been in the Lafayette County Jail since his arrest.
Afterward, Taylor said that Wand had been considering a plea agreement “for some time. … He wanted to accept responsibility, spare the county expense, and spare Sharon from having to testify. I think those are legitimate reasons.
“You have to assess your client’s best interests, and the client has to make that decision.”
Korte said he had spoken to “Sharon and other people” in the day leading up to Wand’s plea agreement.
“Sharon is certainly ready to testify; she didn’t and doesn’t relish the prospect of having to do so,” he said.
As for having two charges dismissed, Korte said, “Mr. Wand is facing three life sentences, which can be consecutive, plus 60 years” for the attempted first-degree intentional homicide charge.
Two days earlier, in the Green County Courthouse in Monroe, Vale ruled that statements Wand made to Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation special agents one day after the Sept. 7 fire would not be allowed in the trial.
Vale ruled, however, that statements Wand made the day of the fire, as well as statements he made from the Lafayette County Jail Sept. 9 would be admissible.
Wand’s defense attorneys filed to suppress all of Wand’s statements to DCI investigators, contending the agents either coerced or threatened Wand to get him to confess.
“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 at a hearing on the suppression motion Jan. 17.
“Yes,” replied DCI special agent James 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.
Vale said Sielehr’s statements confused Wand, who according to a defense witness has an IQ of 67.
On Friday, Taylor said, “The judge’s rulings gave a very clear indication of what was going to happen at trial.”