Portage ~ Friends - Daughter testify in Waldhart homicide trial

In the final day of witnesses for the state Thursday, the prosecution presented Leah Waldhart as not simply the sole suspect of authorities, but as a woman who has repeatedly confessed to killing Curtis Wylesky.

Waldhart, 39, of Beaver Dam, is charged with first-degree intentional homicide as a party to a crime in causing the 2001 death of Wylesky, 42, of Beaver Dam. Waldhart faces life in prison if convicted.

When District Attorney Jane Kohlwey called the first witness, the court was shown the linchpin of the case, bringing together Wylesky’s death of an apparent cocaine overdose in 2001 and renewed interest in the case in 2013, leading to Waldhart’s arrest in 2014.

Cassandra Steinberger told the court about the time that she lived in an apartment next to Waldhart after a week in which she and her sons stayed with Waldhart while they waited to move into their apartment.

The two were sitting in Waldhart’s kitchen, talking about a recently closed murder trial, when Steinberger said that she made a comment about the inevitability of the outcome.

“And what did Leah respond when you said, ‘It just goes to show, you never get away with it?’” Kohlwey asked.

“She said to me, ‘I have something to tell you, but you have to promise you’ll never say anything,’ and I said ‘OK’,” Steinberger told the court.

“And what did she say to you?”

“She proceeded to say that she had a relationship with ‘Curt’ — she didn’t say his last name at the time — but she said she had a relationship with Curt and that it was a bad relationship and that she had written him a letter to meet him out at the bridge where they had carved their names into it. And when she got out there she said that, ‘we had put something in his cocaine,’ she gave him the cocaine once he had got into his vehicle and he snorted it, and gave it to her and she pushed it away.”

According to Steinberger, Waldhart said that Curt at that point “knew something was up,” and tried to grab her, that there was a chase around the truck and a “scuffle” broke out and though the details were fuzzy about this point by Steinberger’s memory, she said that Waldhart had told her that when she left the scene, Curt was face down in the ditch.

“I kind of sat back and said, ‘OK,’” Steinberger said. “She said that he had been abusive.”

This was in June 2011, and Steinberger told the court that she put it the back of her mind and didn’t think about it much after. A year later though, around the first week of October, she needed to buy some bunk beds arranged to buy a set for $50 from an acquaintance, who later turned out to be in a relationship with Wylesky’s son, Christopher.

Steinberger was recovering from a surgery the day before when she picked up the beds, and so she asked for help driving home. The friend drove Steinberger’s car and Christopher Wylesky followed behind them.

When they arrived, Wylesky saw Waldhart nearby mowing the lawn. Steinberger told the court that Wylesky came up to her to tell her that Waldhart did something awful to his father. She then asked the friend if Wylesky’s father’s name was Curt. This, she told the court, led to the recognition of what was going on and she soon after called the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office.

Her call landed on the desk of Detective Sgt. Daniel Garrigan, who was asked to follow up on the call. Garrigan, later getting up from his seat next to Assistant District Attorney Brenda Yaskal, where he had been assisting the prosecution, testified that his work on the case began as a matter of happenstance — an assignment to help out with a case that wasn’t his.

Garrigan told the court that he called Steinberger back and it was valid enough that he set up a meeting to talk to her at the Beaver Dam Police Station on Oct. 16.

Defense attorney Amanda Riek, questioned the sincerity of Steinberger’s reported fear of Waldhart, asking her on cross-examination where she spent Thanksgiving. She and her sons spent the holiday at Waldhart’s apartment with her, her sons and her boyfriend.

Riek then produced printout of a Facebook post: “We went to an amazingly wonderful woman’s house where we had an amazingly wonderful time, we were able to feast-out on some amazing food and spend some time with some really great friends. We as a family are thankful for having such wonderful people in our lives.”

Steinberger said that it was her post. Garrigan had told her to carry on as normal, and so she did, and she said that the over-the-top gratefulness was her way to avoid suspicions from Waldhart, despite flowery messages being uncharacteristic of her.

Threats told

After Steinberger’s testimony, Yaskal called Matthew Hanson to the stand. Hanson spoke on the experience of at times living in the Waldhart home, having dated Waldhart’s daughter Cheyenne, seriously enough to have considered joining their family.

When Waldhart would get irritated or mad, he said that she at times came out with suspicious comments. One thing he heard her say was, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out of it.” Hanson also said she told him “I’ve gotten away with murder once, I can do it again.”

Thursday morning Cheyenne Waldhart, 20, also testified. She momentarily broke down identifying her mother sitting at the defendant’s table, but held together throughout questioning, occasionally taking from the box of tissues in front of her.

She told the court that she had never heard her mother tell her about killing anyone. When Kohlwey asked her about an interview with Garrigan, she told the court, “It was all a blur.”

Garrigan later testified to recording an interview with Cheyenne Waldhart in which she told him about her mother taking her Curt Wylesky’s grave, hearing the same cryptic threat that Hanson spoke of, and her mom saying she was being haunted by Curt.

“She said she would never be able to testify against her mother,” Garrigan said.

Portage Daily Register