Murder trial postponed again. Waldhart released

The cold-case  trial of a woman charged with killing Beaver Dam resident Curtis Wylesky in April 2001 has been postponed until October, and the defendant has been released from the Columbia County Jail after more than a year behind bars.

Leah Waldhart, 39, of Beaver Dam,was charged in February 2014 with first-degree intentional homicide, stemming from allegations that she caused Wylesky's death by cocaine toxicity. Wylesky's body was found on April 23, 2001, in a ditch near Fall River.

Waldhart had been held in Columbia County Jail since Feb. 24, 2014, on $500,000 cash bail. The bail was reduced to $100,000 cash on Feb. 6 of this year.

Waldhart's trial opened, briefly, on  Monday morning in Columbia County Circuit Court. It had been scheduled to last one week.

However, Columbia County Circuit Court Judge Alan J. White informed prospective jurors on Monday that because the trial proceedings had been delayed so many times, he was obliged to reduce Waldhart’s bail to a $100,000 signature bond, and that she was being released from custody.

Conditions for her release include a requirement that she report to the Columbia County Jail every 72 hours, until she can be fitted with an electronic monitoring device.

Friday's pre-trial hearing for Waldhart ended with White saying there was a good chance that the trial could again be postponed.

Among the reasons that White gave Friday were the chance that two key prosecution witnesses might not show up, and defense attorneys' allegations that prosecutors submitted just last week 20 CDs of recorded phone calls made by Waldhart from jail, giving the defense little time to study the evidence.

Last August, the trial was scheduled to begin Feb. 2. On Jan. 26, White, with stern words about the practices of the Wisconsin Crime Lab, postponed the trial.

Columbia County District Attorney Jane Kohlwey said at the Jan. 26 motion hearing that prosecutors recently had discovered “issues” with several pieces of evidence that were supposed to have been analyzed for this case by the state’s crime laboratory.

For example, fingerprint evidence in several cases, including the Waldhart case, had been held for review by the crime lab to assess the performance of a particular investigator, she said.

Also, Kohlwey said, the crime lab had not completed analysis of some DNA evidence related to the case.

The case can’t go to trial, she said, “when neither the prosecution nor the defense has seen all of the evidence.”

Attorney Mark Gumz, who represents Waldhart, moved that some of physical evidence be excluded during the trial, because it has not been made available to the defense.

“We can’t proceed in cases if we don’t have all the evidence,” White said.

Prosecutors, police and others need to insist that crime labs analyze all available evidence and get it into the hands of the prosecution and defense before any case goes to trial, White said Jan. 26.

The blame, White said, falls with the crime lab.

“This is totally inexcusable,” he said. “Don’t they know that the evidence makes a life and death difference for all involved, including the victim’s family and the defendant?”

Calling the crime lab’s delays “an egregious violation of due process,” White said, “If I did my job that way, I’d be impeached.”

The defense also asked for more specific information regarding the manner of Wylesky’s death. An autopsy at the time of his death concluded that he died of cocaine toxicity, but defense attorney Amanda Riek said the information that the defense received from the prosecution does not include a basis for why the death was ruled a homicide years later.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office reopened the case of Wylesky’s death in October 2012, after new information came to investigators' attention. In January 2014, Wylesky’s body was exhumed for further forensic examination.

Also, a motion filed in late January by Kohlwey and Assistant District Attorney Brenda Yaskal asked that Robert Huntington III, the forensic pathologist who performed the 2014 autopsy on Wylesky's body, give his testimony via video conference because Huntington was seriously ill. Huntington has since died, and his testimony never taken.

“I was literally begging someone to go depose Dr. Huntington,” White said on Friday.

Another doctor was lined up to provide expert testimony to the court on the autopsy.

Medical analysis was expected to help the jury determine whether Wylesky died of an accidental overdose of cocaine, whether he committed suicide or whether there was foul play. 

More than one bag of cocaine was found in his stomach at the time of his death, according to investigators.

Investigators said they believe Waldhart “orchestrated the death,” that a second person was involved, and that Wylesky was forced to ingest cocaine.

Waldhart was a suspect in 2001, but the case went inactive.