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Kuester hearing set for Friday
Plea deal may commit him for life on insanity verdict
Kuester July
Jaren Kuester confers with his attorney, Guy Taylor, at the Lafayette County Courthouse in July.

DARLINGTON — Jaren Michael Kuester may see the inside of a courtroom for a final time Friday.

Kuester, 31, Milwaukee, will have a hearing in Lafayette County Circuit Court Friday at 10 a.m. on three counts of first-degree intentional homicide.

Kuester is charged in connection with the deaths of Gary Thoreson, 70, Chloe Thoreson, 66, and Dean Thoreson, 76, in Gary and Chloe Thoreson’s Town of Wayne home April 27.

Kuester pleaded guilty to those charges Dec. 4 after Dane County Circuit Judge C. William Foust found Kuester competent to stand trial.

Kuester was also charged with burglary and automobile theft in connection with the case.

At Friday’s hearing, three doctors who examined Kuester and determined he was insane at the time of the murders will give presentations.

Kuester’s defense attorney, Guy Taylor, said Dec. 4 he will ask Foust to find Kuester not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect with a sentence of a lifetime commitment in a mental facility, said Taylor.

The Jan. 31 hearing should be the conclusion of the case, according to Taylor. “We don’t expect that there will be any impediments to the court making the finding of NGI [not guilty by reason of insanity] at that time,” he said Dec. 4.

Kuester’s mental state came into question early in the legal process. At his arraignment June 3, Lafayette County Circuit Judge William Johnston asked Kuester for his plea. Kuester stood up, interrupted Taylor, and announced that he wanted to plead guilty.

“Your honor, the defense stands mute at this time,” said Taylor immediately following Kuster’s unexpected announcement, after which Kuester insisted, “I’d like to plead guilty, sir.”

After the contrasting statements from defendant and attorney, Johnston recommended that Taylor might want to confer with his client, to which Kuester said, “That’s not necessary.”

After a short conference between Kuester and his attorney, however, Taylor announced that the defense would indeed be standing mute to all charges. Johnston then submitted pleas of not guilty to the five charges.

Kuester was found competent to stand trial July 1, when Kuester changed his pleas to not guilty by mental illness or defect. But at a hearing Sept. 27 Kuester refused to consult with his attorney or reply when the judge asked him questions about understanding the proceedings.

Kuester then was found incompetent to stand trial Oct. 31 based on a psychiatric evaluation from Dr. Erik Knudson, associate medical director of Mendota Mental Health Institution in Madison. The order of commitment called for Kuester to be committed to the Department of Health Services for up to 12 months, with re-examinations at three-, six- and nine-month intervals.

On Dec. 4, Kuester responded to all questions posed to him by Foust and confirmed that he understood the proceedings of entering the pleas and waiving the right to a trial.

Taylor sought an earlier hearing date than Jan. 31, but District Attorney Kate Findley argued that the children of victims Gary and Chloe Thoreson wished to be present and are not able to be in the state before Jan. 31.

Taylor said he wanted a swifter court date due to the non-static state of mental competency and his concern that Kuester, while sitting in the Lafayette County Jail for almost two more months, could possibly digress into an incompetent mental state, which would again put the process at a standstill.

“Competency is always subject to review,” said Taylor, who added of Kuester’s Mendota  treatment, “I do feel that he has been very responsive to the treatment he has received thus far and he’s shown great improvement and hopefully that will continue.”

Prosecutors say that Kuester drove from the Waukesha area to Green County, where he abandoned his vehicle, removed his clothing and began running cross country until he came upon the Thoreson home, which he broke into.

Kuester is accused of killing Dean Thoreson, who was checking on the home for his brother and sister-in-law while they were out of town, and then later also killing Gary and Chloe Thoreson as they returned from their trip.

Kuester then took a truck from the location and drove back to the Waukesha area where he was later apprehended at an apartment building, according to the criminal complaint.