One year ago Saturday in Argyle, Allen, Jeffrey and Joseph Wand and their unborn sister died in a house fire.
Their mother, Sharon, suffered such severe injuries that she was not expected to survive, and their sister, Jessica, was also injured in that fire.
I decided to reuse the photo of the five Wands in the photo on last week’s front page to show what the prosecution sought to do in Jeremy Wand’s sentencing Aug. 22 and Armin Wand’s sentencing April 17 — remind people, specifically Green County Circuit Judge Thomas Vale, who sentenced the Wand brothers, of the victims of the Wand brothers’ acts.
The Wands didn’t actually go to trial, of course, since they pleaded guilty, and Jeremy Wand’s attempt to change his plea back to not guilty failed. So the term “trial” isn’t legally correct, but it’s convenient for purposes of discussion.
I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t know if it would be legal to do this, and I’m not criticizing Vale’s sentencing, but I would have set a lengthier parole date than 34 years (35 years from his arrest date). The youngest of the Wand brothers’ three victims, Joseph, was 3 when he died. The average life span of a white male born in 2010 is estimated at 76½. So I would have set Jeremy’s parole eligibility for 2088, when he would be 95 years old. Any day he will live from here until his death is one more day than any of his three nephews will live.
I remain surprised that the Wands didn’t go to trial. (Which proves what a great lawyer I would be, I suppose.) There didn’t seem to be any incentive for them to do what they did — plead guilty and avoid a trial and get sentenced to life in prison anyway. Given the average life span of life-sentenced prisoners (which is less than those who are not), neither of them may ever see the light of day outside prison walls.
The first murder trial I covered should be familiar to readers of this newspaper — the shooting death of Grant County Deputy Sheriff Tom Reuter in the Town of Clifton March 19, 1990. If you go to www.grantcountysheriffwisconsin.com, you can see both my work for the Grant County Herald Independent and the coverage of The Platteville Journal of that crime.
The first-degree intentional homicide trial of Gregory Coulthard of Cuba City contained something I’d been told that almost never happens — a Perry Mason moment. (Hopefully readers get that reference.) Coulthard’s attorneys’ strategy was to admit that Coulthard shot Reuter, but he did not intend to kill Reuter when he grabbed the shotgun inside his tractor.
Toward the end of his cross-examination, Grant County District Attorney Emil Everix asked, “When the officer came around, that’s when you shot him, right?”
Coulthard’s answer: “I shot him when I saw him.”
Everix immediately decided he’d asked enough questions. Despite his attorney’s calling it a “slick lawyer’s trick,” Coulthard was convicted in 90 minutes, including lunch and selection of the jury foreman.
It amazes me somewhat that Coulthard, who was sentenced to life imprisonment with parole eligibility in 25 years, will become eligible for parole 18 months from now.
There weren’t really any Perry Mason moments during the 11½ months between the Wand crime and the sentencing, at least not in public. There might be enough material for a book except that the Wand non-trial probably lacks sufficient courtroom drama to get an author’s or truTV’s attention.
The Wands were proof that social workers’ claims that family dysfunction is often multi-generational are often correct. The Monroe Times reported that the family of the Wands’ grandparents (which included the Wands’ father, Armin Jr.) had gotten the attention of Illinois social service officials in the 1950s. And yet others (including one of Armin and Jeremy’s brothers) have grown up in difficult circumstances and yet made a positive contribution to society.
Afterward, Jeremy Wand’s attorney, Frank Medina, called the crime “one of the most heinous offenses that’s occurred in Wisconsin,” and it’s hard to argue with that.
No trial I’ve covered included a bizarre revelation like letters and social media posts that Sharon Wand may or may not have written absolving her husband and brother-in-law of blame. Had you been in court for Jeremy Wand’s sentencing, you would have picked up Sharon’s sympathy for her brother-in-law, but nothing like what the letters and social media purport to have claimed, and no sympathy at all for her now ex-husband. (It’s certainly hard to imagine what kind of dark heart thinks taking the identity of someone who lost three of her children is a good idea, if that’s in fact what happened.)
It’s hard to imagine what being in emergency services in Lafayette County is like these days. In the past year, the Sheriff’s Department has dealt with a total of seven homicides — the three Wands and their unborn sister, plus Dean, Gary and Chloe Thoreson, killed in the Town of Wayne April 28. Imagine being on the Argyle Fire Department and EMS and finding out that the house fire you were called to in the middle of the night had child victims.
Murder trials are professionally fascinating but personally difficult to deal with except for the most cynical. I remember thinking what a big professional moment covering Coulthard’s trial would be. That lasted four days, until Reuter’s funeral at St. Mary Catholic Church in Platteville. Reuter wasn’t Catholic, but St. Mary was able to handle the overflow crowd (which included the Dane County K-9 dog, Ivan, that, you might say, made the arrest). You see the suffering resulting from the crime — in Reuter’s case, a widow and five children who grew up without a father — and suddenly your work becomes, pun not intended, dead serious. And when you have children who are close in age to the victims, that affects you in an entirely different way.