CRAWFORD COUNTY - Chase Harville was bound over for trial by Crawford County Circuit Court Judge Lynn Rider on the charge of first-degree homicide in the violent death of three-year-old child for whom he was babysitting.
Harville, a 29-year-old Prairie du Chien resident, appeared in court for his preliminary hearing on Thursday, July 30. While Crawford County District Attorney Lukas Steiner also appeared in person, the defendant’s attorney, Jeremiah Meyer-O’Day appeared via video conferencing on a large screen in the courtroom.
The hearing was also attended by Erica Kapinus the three-year-old victim’s mother, and her mother, the victim’s grandmother, Camille Kapinus. Three other women sat in the front row of seats in the courtroom, with Erica and Camille Kapinus. Erica clutched a framed photo of the victim, who is referred to in the court documents as BEJ.
While Kapinus does have a child with Harville, BEJ is the son of a different father.
In addition to those mentioned, the hearing was attended in person by four Prairie du Chien Police Officers, Crawford County Sheriff’s Department Lieutenant Ryan Fradette, the county’s victim-witness coordinator and two local reporters. More than a dozen others watched the proceedings remotely via a Zoom meeting connection.
For his part, Harville sat at the defense table alone looking straight ahead. He never turned toward the victim’s family or others seated behind him in the courtroom. He was clad in orange jail scrubs, handcuffed and shackled.
Harville also wore a blue mask as part of the protocol in the building since the onset of pandemic. In fact, everyone present in the courtroom had on some sort of mask as required by the pandemic protocol.
For her part, Erica Kapinus looked tired. She clutched a framed photograph of her deceased son. The little boy wore a red shirt in the photo. Above her mask and behind the lenses of her glasses, the eyes of Erica Kapinus appeared weary and sad.
The preliminary hearing began with a case against Harville alleging a felon in possession of firearm. The felony charge allows for a maximum sentence of not more than 10 years in prison and a fine of not more than $25,000. Up to an additional three years in prison could be added to the sentence, if he is found to be a repeat criminal.
The first and only witness in this case was Officer Max Erickson, a 13-year veteran of the Prairie du Chien Police Department. Erickson and other officers were assigned to provide security for Harville’s probation agent, Seth Reynolds, when he executed a search warrant on Friday, May 15 at Chase Harville’s parents’ residence in Prairie du Chien.
With Erickson and the others present, the probation officer found a smoking device and a small amount of marijuana in the bedroom identified as Chase Harville’s by his mother. The probation agent also found a 9 mm handgun under the bed in a case. There were three boxes of 9 mm ammunition found under the bed as well, according to Erickson’s testimony and statements made in the criminal complaint.
Erickson testified that the probation agent was searching for the weapon after getting anonymous reports that Harville had made threats and brandished the firearm in public.
Rider asked attorney Meyer-O’Day if he had any witnesses or had any questions for Erickson and the attorney replied that he did not.
Judge Rider found sufficient evidence to bind over Harville for trial on the felon in possession of a firearm charge.
On the first-degree homicide charge, Crawford County District Attorney Lukas Steiner called Lieutenant Ryan Fradette from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department.
Fradette confirmed that while he was not initially on duty at 2:20 a.m. on Friday, July 10, he was called out because of the suspicious death of a child.
Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Berg was the first to arrive at the residence at 61906 County N in Eastman Township following a 911 call reporting a non-breathing child.
The deputy noted that an adult female was attempting to give CPR to the child. She was later identified as Camille Kapinus, the child’s grandmother.
Steiner asked in what state Berg found the child upon his arrival. Fradette said the deputy described the child’s body as stiff and cold with substantial facial bruising.
With that stark description, Erica Kapinus audibly gasped–as she continued to clutch the photograph of her deceased son.
Fradette said in answer to other questions from Steiner, that BEJ was taken to the hospital by EMS at approximately 4:10 a.m. and pronounced dead at 5 a.m. Crawford County Coroner Joe Morovits and Sheriff’s Department Investigator Wade Hutchison transported the body to Madison for an autopsy conducted by Dr. Michael Stier. The pathologist concluded the child’s death was the homicidal result of blunt force head trauma, according to Fradette’s testimony at the hearing and information contained in the criminal complaint.
While Harville was present in the house when Deputy Berg arrived, he left the house as other deputies and first responders arrived, Fradette explained. Harville was located later in the day on the property and taken into custody at 2 p.m.
When Crawford County Sheriff’s Deputy Kyle Mezera interviewed Camille Kapinus, she said that Harville told her upon her arrival that the child had sustained the injury when he hit his head on the countertop, while roller skating in the kitchen, Fradette explained at the hearing.
Camille Kapinus also told Mezera that she received a call from Harville at 3:30 a.m. to come over. Upon arrival, she saw Harville holding the child against his chest However the child was not breathing, cold, and had bruises around the eyes.
After his arrest, Harville agreed to be interviewed by Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agents James Pertzborn and Brian Hawley, Fradette explained at the preliminary hearing.
Initially, the defendant insisted that the child had received the injuries that resulted in his death, when he hit his head on the kitchen countertop while roller skating.
However, under further questioning, Harville admitted to the agents that he was the only adult in the house caring for the victim and two siblings, while their mother was at work.
Harville told the agents he heard the child sneak at getting some Oreos in the kitchen. At that point, he snuck up on the boy and grabbed him by his hair. He insisted the child go into the living room and ask for permission to get the cookies, according to the report of the DCI agents, which also appeared in the criminal complaint.
When the child whined, according to Harville, he grabbed BEJ by the hair and attempted to “chuck him” from the kitchen to a couch in the living room.
While doing this a large clump of hair was pulled from the child’s head and instead of landing on the couch, he land head-first on the floor, according to testimony from the DCI report Fradette told the court.
Harville told the investigators that following the incident, the child was alert, but his condition deteriorated over the course of a few hours, according to Fradette’s recollection of the report filed by DCI agents about the interview.
When asked during the interview if he had requested medical assistance, Harville said no.
Also, under questioning from the district attorney, Fradette said that Harville had told the agents in the interview that he communicated with the mother electronically about the incident, but had misled her as to source of the injuries and their severity.
Fradette said that he believed Harville had told Erica Kapinus the child had a roller-skating accident in the kitchen.
Fradette also confirmed that Harville had stated to the agents during the interview that he was consuming beer and brandy.
Finally, Steiner asked Fradette if he was aware of a previous conviction for felony child abuse and the lieutenant answered, “Yes, in late 2015.”
Harville’s attorney did have some questions in cross-examination for Fradette.
The lieutenant confirmed the interview with the DCI agents lasted four to six hours. Then, he made a clarification and said it was more in the five to six-hour range.
When Meyer-O’Day asked if there had been any promises of leniency made in the DCI interview as reported, Judge Rider stopped Fradette from answering. The judge noted that this information was beyond the scope of the preliminary hearing.
Meyer-O’Day asked if the interview was recorded. Fradette said the second floor room in the sheriff’s department, where the interview was conducted, has both video and audio recording available and recordings of the interview were made.
Fradette confirmed that he had interviewed Erica Kapinus, the mother. Meyer-O’Day asked if she had told Harville at one point to give him (the child)
Tylenol. Fradette said he did not recall that statement.
Meyer-O’Day went on to ask Fradette if he recalled Erica Kapinus telling him that she told Harville to call her if the child had a seizure. Fradette did not recall her making that statement.
The attorney asked if the lieutenant recalled the mother telling Harville to summon medical assistance. He also asked Fradette if he recalled Erica Kapiuns saying that Harville was concerned.
In each case, Fradette said that he did not recall those statements from the interview with Erica Kapinus.
Fradette if he interviewed the victim’s grandmother Camille Kapinus. He said he had not, but Kyle Mezera had. The attorney asked Fradette if he was aware of the contents of those interviews. Fradette said he was, but was not familiar enough to feel comfortable testifying about it.
“You reviewed things prior to testifying here didn’t you?” Meyer-O’Day asked.
“I did not review all of the information gathered,” Fradette said. “I skimmed some of it.”
Which documents did you review?
“I reviewed the criminal complaint and the preliminary report of the UW Hospital pathologist,” Fradette answered.
When pressed by the attorney that he had not reviewed others, Fradette noted that he had indeed reviewed the DCI report of Special Agent James Pertzborn.
“Did Harville express regret in the DCI interview?” Meyer-O’Day asked.
“I don’t recall,” Fradette answered.
With that exchange, Harville made about his only visible reaction in the hearing. The defendant appeared to shake his head vigorously from side to side indicating a no to Fradette’s answer that it could not be affirmed that he had expressed regret in the DCI interview.
District Attorney Lukas Steiner moved to bind over Chase Harville for a trial on the charge of first-degree homicide.
Steiner explained that the report of Dr. Stier noted the young boy died by homicidal blunt force trauma. The DA also pointed out that Harville admitted he was the only adult in the home, and that he threw the child.
Attorney Jeremiah Meyer-O’Day pointed out the state hadn’t proved utter disregard for human life as necessary for the first-degree homicide charge. He argued instead that the state had shown it was reckless behavior that resulted in the death.
Judge Rider said she believed probable cause for the charge had been proven. She cited Dr. Stier’s autopsy conclusion that it was homicidal blunt force trauma that killed the child.
The statements of the defendant, Harville, confirmed much of this, Rider noted.
The facts support utter disregard for human life, like throwing with such force a handful of hair was pulled out, she pointed out.
“I’m satisfied that probable cause in the case was satisfied sufficiently,” Judge Rider concluded. “Probable cause was admitted by Harville’s own statements.”
Rider bound over Chase Harville for trial on the charge of first-degree reckless homicide as a repeater. If convicted of the Class B Felony, Harville could be sentenced to a term of imprisonment not to exceed 60 years. If he is found to be a repeater based on a previous felony conviction in the prior five years, he could be sentenced up to another six years.