By TODD RICHMOND
DARLINGTON, Wis. (AP) — A Milwaukee man accused of killing three people in a southwestern Wisconsin farmhouse is confused about the line between reality and delusion, his defense attorney said Friday.
Prosecutors charged Jaren Kuester on Tuesday with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of burglary and one count of stealing a car in connection with the deaths of 70-year-old Gary Thoreson; his 66-year-old wife, Chloe Thoreson; and his 76-year-old brother, Dean Thoreson, last month. He faces life in prison if convicted.
Kuester, 31, made his initial court appearance in Lafayette County on Friday. Security was tight, with sheriff’s deputies and state Justice Department agents stationed around the courtroom. Kuester, handcuffed and wearing a bulletproof vest, sat silently at the defense table with his head bowed.
Judge William Johnston set a preliminary hearing for Monday afternoon. He kept Kuester’s bond at $3 million and bailiffs led Kuester back to jail.
Kuester’s public defender, Guy Taylor, later told reporters that Kuester is being held in isolation. He said he’s investigating Kuester’s mental state and whether he may have been using drugs. He also said he’s considering an insanity plea.
“In my opinion he is competent. I find him to be cooperative. He’s confused,” Taylor said. “His confusion extends to his recollection, his grasp of the difference between reality and delusion. That being said, he’s an easy person to talk to.”
Taylor didn’t object to holding the preliminary hearing, a proceeding where prosecutors will introduce more evidence in hopes of convincing Johnston to continue the case. Such hearings are usually a formality but can provide defense attorneys insight into the prosecution’s strategy.
“I think we’d all like to see what’s going on,” Taylor said.
Kuester and Thoreson family members left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. The Rev. Luke Smetters, the Thorseons’ pastor, said the family is “doing OK. They’re processing this just like anyone would. … The fear, the threat is over for us. (But) it’s still a shock to the community.”
According to court documents, Kuester told investigators his life was “crashing and burning around him” after he was taken into custody for allegedly threatening staff members at a Waukesha County animal shelter. An employee there said he told workers he wanted a dead dog he had dropped off a few weeks earlier returned to him alive. When they told him they couldn’t comply, he told them they would pay for the dog with their lives.
He was bailed out of jail on the morning of April 26, walked to his father’s home in Waukesha and drove off that afternoon in his SUV.
According to a criminal complaint, he later abandoned the vehicle in Green County and started running through the woods, shedding his clothing and his jail identification tag as he went. Kuester told investigators he thought he was being followed, the complaint said.
He came upon Gary and Chloe Thoreson’s farmhouse in the town of Wiota, a community of about 1,000 people in Lafayette County about an hour southwest of Madison. Believing no one was home, he broke in and searched the house for clothes, food and valuables, he told investigators.
A man entered the home and Kuester killed him with a fireplace poker, according to investigators. Kuester said he didn’t want the man to leave and get help. He later heard a man and a woman enter the home and he attacked them with the poker, too, killing them both so they wouldn’t leave and get help, prosecutors said.
He then drove Dean Thoreson’s F-150 pickup truck to his father’s house in Waukesha. Police believe the killings took place on the evening of April 27.
A third Thoreson brother discovered the bodies in the farmhouse on the morning of April 28. Police tracked the F-150 truck to Waukesha and arrested Kuester at his father’s residence that same day.
His father told investigators Kuester was being treated for mental health problems, according to the complaint. He said his son showed up confused and said he had hurt three people. His mother told the Wisconsin State Journal newspaper Kuester believed demons were following him around.