DARLINGTON — The trial of Jaren Kuester, the man accused of killing the Thoresons of rural South Wayne in late April, was tentatively scheduled to begin on Oct. 15.
A hearing will be held Oct. 15, but that will not be the start of the trial. In fact, brakes were applied to the legal process after Kuester’s court appearance on Friday afternoon Sept. 27.
Before the court appearance began, Lafayette County District Attorney Kate Findley and Kuester’s attorneys met privately with Dane County Circuit Judge C. William Foust, who is hearing the case in Lafayette County Circuit Court.
When Kuester was brought into the courtroom and proceedings began, Findley announced that the state and defense had come to a sort of agreement that would have included Kuester’s entering pleas of guilty to the three counts of first-degree intentional homicide, and having the counts of burglary and auto theft dismissed. Findley said they would then request that the court not enter a conviction at that time.
“We are withdrawing the previous not guilty pleas and that is with the assurance of the state that we have an agreement for phase two,” said Guy Taylor, Kuester’s lead attorney.
“Phase two” would have included a future hearing date where additional testimony would have been presented and considered by the court and possibly lead to what Taylor explained as a lifetime commitment to a mental health institution.
However, that deal was taken off the table, at least for the time being, when Kuester refused to speak when directly asked by the judge if he understood what was going on.
Foust repeatedly tried to get any type of comment out of Kuester by asking him what he wanted, why he wasn’t answering the questions, if he had any questions and if he wanted to take some time to speak to his lawyer while Kuester simply continued to sit silently between his attorneys.
“Mr. Kuester, if you can’t answer fairly simple questions I think I have to question your competency to go forward with this case,” said Foust to the defendant, who at that point finally spoke up.
“Well, if you told me I can remain silent, I think I’d like to remain silent. Thank you,” said Kuester.
Kuester’s attorney admitted to the judge that his client had also clammed up on him recently and said after court that they were aware that there could be difficulties with his client, but that they were still hopeful that he would be able to respond to the judge and the two sides would have reached an agreement with a resolution that Taylor said in his opinion would have been “appropriate and fair.”
“But that didn’t happen today because my client was unable to vocalize his desires,” said Taylor.
Foust ordered that Kuester be examined by the state Department of Health Services, again, and scheduled a tentative hearing date for Oct. 15 at 1:30 p.m.
Kuester was previously declared competent to stand trial during a hearing on July 1 after an examination report by Dr. Michael Hammer of Mendota Mental Health Institution in Madison was presented to the court.
However, Taylor expressed frustration with his client’s medical care up to the present.
“I believe there is a question about my client’s competency that’s due to his issues,” said Taylor. “If his problems were alleviated by adequate medical care he would be able to express himself to the court and counsel.”
“Mental illness is not a static thing,” added Taylor. “People have their ups and downs … and I believe that he frankly needs a review of his medication regiment.”
Taylor went on to explain that he felt they had not received cooperation with requesting changes on that aspect of Kuester’s care. “It has made it very difficult on the jail and very difficult for defense counsel,” he added.
Taylor said he was not personally satisfied that his client was getting the right treatment, adding that there have been disagreements as to who is ultimately responsible for Kuester’s care. Taylor said Lafayette County and Mendota Mental Health Facility have both had contact with Kuester since his arrest.
“As long as we get the same-old same-old I don’t see this getting better and we’ve ground to a standstill here,” said Taylor, who during court suggested Winnebago Mental Health Institution as an alternative to Mendota as the facility chosen to perform the competency examination.
“He’s pretty frustrated too,” said Taylor of his client. “He’s not stupid and he hears what is said, but his condition paralyzes him in some respects because he doesn’t trust anything.”
Taylor said Kuester had in the past expressed a willingness to work with doctors regarding changes in his medication. “So the problem is not with him in regards to that,” said Taylor.
Taylor said if Kuester is found to be incompetent this time, the case will be suspended and Kuester will be detained until such a time that he would become competent.
Kuester appeared in court wearing what his attorney described as a “suicide smock,” reserved for high risk prisoners to prevent them from harming themselves and no shoes.
Kuester has been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide for the deaths of Gary Thoreson, 70, his wife, Chloe Thoreson, 66, and his brother Dean Thoreson, 76, all of rural South Wayne. Kuester also faces charges of burglary and automobile theft in connection with the case.