DARLINGTON — The man responsible for the deaths of three Lafayette County citizens, will spend the rest of his life in a mental institution.
On Friday, Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust sentenced Jaren M. Kuester, 31, Milwaukee, to the lifetime commitment after finding him not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
“There are no winners in the courtroom today,” said Foust before he delivered the sentencing. “There are only those who have lost. … Nothing I do here today can fix that.”
Kuester had previously pleaded guilty to three first-degree intentional homicide charges in connection with the April killings of the three Thoresons — Chloe, 66, Gary, 70, and Dean, 76. Although Kuester was found guilty of committing the crimes, he was also found to not be legally responsible for the crimes on Friday due to his mental condition at that time.
Dr. Craig Schoenesker, a forensic psychiatrist with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, testified in court on Friday about his examination of Kuester and Kuester’s mental state while Kuester was being held at Mendota Mental Health Institution in Madison.
Schoenesker said from records he was aware that there had been several prior diagnoses of Kuester, including ADD and bipolar disorder, and that Kuester had been receiving mental treatment in an outpatient basis for approximately 10 years.
About five to seven years ago Schoenesker said, there was increasing concern from Kuester’s family about his mood swings, irritability, paranoia and hallucinatory symptoms.
Schoenesker said he personally noted during his dealings with Kuester that the patient had an extensive delusional belief system and believed that people were entering his house, tracking his whereabouts and monitoring his behavior in the months prior to the killing of the Thoresons.
“Additionally he believed that that scenario and that level of conflict was reflective of a more metaphysical conflict, if you will,” said Schoenesker. “People engaged in those actions were representing some larger supernatural forces and he had then been imbedded with the responsibility to act on the side of spiritual good or as an agent of God or Jesus Christ.”
Schoenesker diagnosed Kuester with schizoaffective disorder, a condition in which a person experiences a combination of schizophrenia symptoms — such as hallucinations or delusions — and mood disorder symptoms, such as mania or depression, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Schoenesker said he had determined that at the time of the killings, Kuester was unable to determine the wrongfulness of his actions and was also unable to conform his conduct to within the confines of the law — the two prongs of the test for criminal responsibility in Wisconsin.
When asked by Lafayette County District Attorney Kate Findley, about the dangerousness of Kuester, Schoenesker said, “It was my opinion and is still my opinion, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Mr. Kuester would represent a substantial level of dangerousness and a risk of harm to himself, others or property, were he to be released to the community.”
Bryan Thoreson and Krista Kreil, the son and daughter of Chloe and Gary Thoreson, gave victim impact statements in court.
Bryan Thoreson described how explaining to his three young children what happened to their grandparents was one of the most horrible experiences he has experienced, and that his youngest, who is 5, asks weekly how Grandma and Grandpa died.
He also spoke of how his childhood home, the farm that has been in his family for four generations, has been forever marred, as the site of his parents’ and uncle’s murder.
“We were robbed not only of our loved ones, but joy, security, trust in people,” he said. “The despair and sorrow are overwhelming.”
To Kuester, he said, “I know every detail of what you did to them and it sickens me,” while holding back tears.
Kreil chose to testify from the witness stand, speaking directly to the defendant’s table where Kuester sat with his head down, glancing up only once to look at the daughter and niece of his victims.
In addition to the horrific tragedy of violently losing her parents, her children’s grandparents and an uncle, Kreil said she felt cheated of the traditional funeral processes that may have helped provide closure, because the condition of the bodies was such that family members were warned against seeing them a final time, and there was no way an open casket funeral was possible.
Toward the end of her statement Kreil spoke directly to Kuester: “Our family will survive this, because our love is stronger than your evil. We will go on with our lives … but you will remain locked in a facility staring at the same four walls until the day you die.”
Kreil also spoke of the issue of mental health in general: “We would all like to believe that if Jaren Kuester had received further professional help, this heinous crime could have been prevented, however even with help this could have happened. Maybe not to my parents and uncle, but to someone else. Those who suffer from mental health issues must also be responsible for their actions,” she said.
“It is easy to blame the system for failing in this case, but at the end of the day you are responsible. You are the monster who made the choice to kill, no matter what demons may or may not have been in your head. You are not a victim in this case. Mental health is not an excuse you can stand behind.”
Findley spoke of the impact of the killings on the community as a whole, saying that Lafayette County is a rural area that does not see crimes like this and that now, after the random killings of three vibrant and highly involved community members, people in the area have lost their previous sense of security and are afraid.
Findley asked Foust for a sentence of three consecutive lifetime commitments for Kuester, to which Kuester’s attorney Guy Taylor disagreed.
“There is no more than life,” said Taylor. “It is absurd to talk about consecutive life sentences in this context.”
Foust gave just the one life sentence saying, “In this case commitment is for life. Once he is done with this life, there is no other life to continue to serve.”
Foust said Kuester was not a candidate at this point in time for supervised release or conditional release and that he poses too great a danger to himself and others to be considered for conditional release. The judge also ordered that Kuester will be medicated without his consent.
Kuester made a short statement to the court during which he said he had lost touch with reality and was lost and confused when he entered the Thoreson home, because he believed no one was there and was only looking for food and drink.
“I never planned to harm anyone,” he said, “but I did take three lives. . I’m sorry. Looking back, I never imagined this happening.”