Prosecution will likely rest its case Wednesday in the Chandler Halderson trial

Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 8:27 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2022 at 5:39 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The state will likely rest its case on Wednesday in the trial of a 23-year-old Dane County man who is accused of killing his parents.

The announcement from prosecutors comes Tuesday after seven days of testimony, parted by a one-week break after it was revealed that defendant Chandler Halderson tested positive for the coronavirus last week. This would turn the case over to the defense to put on evidence for the court, if it chooses to.

The judge also announced in court Tuesday that a juror had tested positive over the hiatus.

Dane Co. Judge John Hyland noted the juror tested negative last week in the test provided by the court right before the jury was dismissed for the week. It was sometime during the intervening days that another test confirmed the juror contracted the virus.

The dismissal is the first one of the trial, which is already entering its third week, and leaves a panel of 17 remaining, twelve of whom will be selected after closing arguments are presented to decide the case. After explaining the situation to the jurors who remained, Hyland confirmed with them that they managed to avoid any coverage of the trial or discussions about it during the past week.

Chandler Halderson, 23, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first degree intentional homicide in the deaths of his parents, Bart and Krista Halderson. He is also accused of two counts of providing false information on a kidnapping, two counts of mutilating a corpse and two counts of hiding a corpse.

When testimony resumed, Dane Co. Chief Medical Examiner Agnieska Rogalska took the stand to recount the autopsy of the defendant’s mother, Krista Halderson. Jurors were presented copies of the autopsy after an earlier warning about the gruesomeness of the contents.

Rogalska went over the locations near Hwy. 60 along the Wisconsin River in the Town of Roxbury where human remains were found. She noted that the remains, which were found in multiple locations, showed no animal activity nor was the ground slanted enough for them to move on their own.

The medical examiner pointed to incisions on the body that she said were caused by a sharp object like a saw and noted cuts on a femur bone that showed tool marks; however, prosecutors expect to revisit the bone damage during later testimony with another witness. She added that many of the parts appeared to have been separated after the victim had already died. After confirming the DNA belonged to Krista Halderson, Rogalska stated she determined the cause of death was homicide, and not natural.

When challenged by the defense to explain how she came to that conclusion, Rogalska listed the extent of the injuries, the fact the remains were hidden, and her knowledge about what happened to Krista’s husband. She added that she would have no explanation why only legs were found if the death were natural. When the defense countered by arguing that not much could be gleaned from the remains of legs only, Rogalska argued she could tell the victim had been dismembered, that it happened after she died, and that there were also blunt force injuries.

Later in the morning, prosecutors called a forensic anthropologist who specializes in examining bones, Dr. Figueroa Soto, to discuss both Bart and Krista remains, starting with the former. Showing images of the bones only, Soto walked jurors through the factors that led her to determine what kinds of blades were used and why she thinks it was done by hand, rather than with a power saw. Tools found at the Cottage Grove location where Bart’s body was recovered were consistent with Soto’s findings, she said, noting that she would not be able to state definitively if they were the same tools.

The Halderson case

The Halderson Case

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Bart & Krista Halderson were last seen on July 1 by a family member at the couple’s home in Dane County.

Chandler Halderson reported to authorities that his parents were missing on July 7. At that time, authorities believed the couple had planned a trip to Langlade County, Wisconsin over the weekend and family had been unable to confirm that they arrived.

At the time, he told investigators his parents and an unknown couple had left the preceding Friday morning to visit their cabin in White Lake for the July Fourth holiday weekend.

Immediately following the missing persons report, the Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office reached out to their counterparts in Langlade Co. who checked the cabin’s property but found no one there.

The sheriff’s office upped the status of the couple’s disappearance on July 8, calling it “suspicious.” Police arrested Chandler Halderson that day for allegedly providing deputies with false information on a kidnapping.

Human remains were also located July 8 in rural Cottage Grove. The remains were confirmed to be those of Bart Halderson on July 12.

Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett noted at that time that investigators had obtained a search warrant for the Halderson home.

“[W]e want to extend our condolences to the Halderson family,” Dane Co. Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said on July 12. “We understand that some of the details of this investigation are very difficult for them to hear and we want to be sensitive to that.”

Shortly after the medical examiner’s report was released, the Sheriff’s Office stated it now considered the missing persons case a homicide investigation. Additionally, three new counts, including first degree homicide, were filed against Halderson’s son, Chandler. At that time, Krista was still considered missing.

Sheriff Barrett explained July 9 that as investigators continued interviewing the Haldersons’ family, friends, and neighbors, they developed information that led them to the location where the remains were found.

Prosecutors noted Monday, July 11 that witnesses claimed to have seen Chandler Halderson multiple times near a wood line outside the rural Dane Co. property, where his father’s remains were later found.

During a court appearance on July 15, Court Commissioner Brian Asmus set bail for Chandler Halderson at $1 million after arguments by prosecutors and Halderson’s attorney.

Defense attorney Catherine Dorl told Asmus her client is a lifelong resident of Wisconsin, has been involved in the Boy Scouts and church groups, and has no prior criminal history. She had asked that bail be continued at $10,000.

The District Attorney’s office also released a 14-page document that day detailing the investigation into the murder of Bart Halderson.

It contains several interviews with Chandler Halderson, friends, family and witnesses. The complaint does not specify when and where Bart Halderson was killed, but it does place Chandler at the site where Bart’s remains were discovered.

According to the complaint, a family friend greeted Halderson when he arrived on her rural property on July 8 in Cottage Grove, where Bart Halderson’s remains were eventually located. The friend asked Halderson if he was OK, and he said he was not OK, and that he was having problems reading words and numbers.

The statement goes on to say Halderson asked to use the pool, the friend said yes, and observed Halderson was gone somewhere between 1-1.5 hours and when he returned, the friend told authorities Halderson was not wet and the pool cover was still intact.

The friend also observed Halderson walking around to a shed nearby on the property, where she could not see what Halderson was doing. She told authorities after that, Halderson took a dip in the pool and “[appeared] to be washing off.”

According to the document, investigators spoke with a friend of Chandler’s, who says he brought Halderson a gun and ammunition on June 12.

During a search of the Halderson home, investigators found casings that would have fired properly from the type of gun Chandler Halderson had obtained from that friend. The complaint does not go into details about the whereabouts of that firearm, or if it has been recovered.

According to the complaint, Halderson went door-to-door and asked to look at home surveillance video from neighbors. An NBC15 News reporter interviewed Halderson on July 8; the day after Bart and Krista Halderson were reported missing, and before Chandler Halderson was arrested.

While in the neighborhood, the reporter saw Halderson doing precisely that, and told the reporter he wanted to see if he could catch a glimpse of his parents leaving the house.

The complaint says Halderson asked at least one neighbor for surveillance video and asked if the camera captured the road or his house.

The document also continually comes back to a foot injury Halderson had bandaged up.

The criminal complaint also revealed that a second portion of human remains had been discovered near Old Hwy 60 along the Wisconsin River, a Department of Natural Resources property, near the Town of Roxbury.

Investigators targeted a new location on July 20 as they searched for Krista Halderson.

The Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office revealed they had been searching the Waste Management landfill, near Johnson Creek, as they searched for her.

On July 22, Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office dive teams and a cadaver dog searched a pond near the home of Bart and Krista Halderson, as the search continues for the latter.

Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Elise Schaffer said they began draining the pond to gain better access in the afternoon. She said a cadaver dog alerted them to certain areas in the pond, but crews had not found anything significant.

The search is not the result of any specific tips, she explained, and searchers went there because of its proximity to the Halderson’s home.

“It’s just an obvious location that we would want to search for evidence or anything that might be related to this crime,” she said.

On Friday, July 30, the Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office confirmed remains located in the Town of Roxbury were that of Krista Halderson. As a result, its investigators asked the District Attorney’s Office to add a second first-degree homicide charges, as well as charges of hiding and mutilating a corpse, against Chandler Halderson, who was already faces the same allegations stemming from his father’s death.

“We have kept the Halderson family in our thoughts and prayers throughout this investigation and we extend our continued sympathies to them today. We ask that everyone allow them to grieve this tremendous loss with the utmost respect and dignity,” Sheriff Kalvin Barrett said that day.

Barrett also noted then that investigators found more human remains on Bart and Krista Halderson’s property. Those remains have not been identified and Barrett did not say if they were found inside the house or outdoors.

According to an updated criminal complaint August 25, it includes new information about when Krista Halderson was last seen and that authorities had found her and Bart Halderson’s cell phones and drivers licenses.

The complaint also releases new information about Krista’s last known whereabouts. Surveillance video shows that Krista left work on Thursday, July 1 around 5 p.m. and arrived home around 5:10 p.m. that day.

The same vehicle later pulls out of the Halderson’s driveway around 8:15 p.m. and stops at a Kwik Trip on the 4300 block of Windsor Drive in the Village of Windsor. A man goes in the store and buys two bags of ice. Authorities do not say who the man is.

Also in the complaint, a sheriff’s deputy states on July 28, he went to the Halderson home to process it. When he went into the garage, he found Krista and Bart’s phones and drivers licenses inside of a pair of shoes, wrapped in tinfoil and paper towels.

Authorities continued, saying they obtained text messages reportedly between Chandler and Krista that were sent on July 4 that discussed that they would be going to a parade, but the parade was actually scheduled for July 3.

Authorities also obtained Chandler’s Google search history, finding searches that referred to bodies being found, bodies being found in southern Wisconsin and his parents’ names. These searches were all made the morning of July 8, prior to authorities finding the remains of Bart Halderson later that day.

Chandler Halderson stood mute in court during his arraignment Aug. 31, leading the judge to enter not guilty pleas on his behalf. Later that night, court documents updated with a schedule of the 23-year-old’s trial dates. He withdrew his demand for a speedy trial.

In November, a judge denied the defense’s motion to prohibit news media from livestreaming court proceedings in the homicide trial. The motion was denied in part after NBC15 and other media groups fought to guarantee the public’s right to information in the trial.

A second motion, proposed to exclude the use of jail recordings and correspondence made by Halderson, was also denied in court.

On Dec. 29, Chandler Halderson appeared in court for a jury status hearing. It would be the final court appearance prior to the start of the trial.

The tools used on Krista’s body were also in line with the tools found in Cottage Grove, Soto continued, also detailing what they learned from the evidence on the bone fragments. In addition to bone fragments from their body, Soto said she examined ones found in the fireplace and ash trap of the Halderson home and were able to determine they were from humans. In all, she testified over 230 fragments were found in the fire debris. Soto also mentioned that bone fragments were found in a vacuum cleaner, although she could not determine if they were from a person.

Just prior to the lunch break, defense attorneys took the opportunity to cross-examine Soto, highlighting how some of the bones could not be confirmed to have been human. While some of the fragments indicated they were from an adult, the defense pointed out that investigators could not confirm if the were male or female, or how many people the bones came from.

When all parties returned to the courtroom after lunch, Kansas man Andrew Smith who met Chandler Halderson through playing video games testified that he played nearly everyday with the defendant. He also thought Chandler was going to college and worked for a solar panel company. Smith came to visit Chandler once and noted the two went swimming at a river, plus he stayed at the Halderson home during his visit.

Smith also bought Chandler a gun as a gift, saying he bought it for himself and didn’t use it. Smith bought him the ammo for it.

Smith told the court that Chandler called him and sounded “hysterical” telling him that his parents were missing, so he encouraged him to call the police.

The defense questioned Smith on giving Chandler the gun, to which he said he took a picture of Chandler’s license and the gun’s serial number for proof that he gifted it.

A detective verified that there was an ammunition can found in Chandler Halderson’s closet during a search of the home.

The next two witnesses told the court that they went swimming with Chandler at the Wisconsin River at different points.

Alex Gravatt, a childhood friend of Chandler and former roommate, said he believed Chandler knew how to scuba dive and believed he was a member of the Madison Police Department’s dive rescue team. Chandler also reportedly described getting caught in riptides to Alex.

Dakotah Brown, a former girlfriend of Chandler Halderson, went swimming with him at the river in 2020 and also believed he was a dive team member. The state presented two photos that she said Chandler had sent her, showing a “beach day in Sauk City with the boys.”

Paige Valenta, assistant chief of operations for MPD, noted the department does not have a scuba rescue team, nor has Chandler Halderson ever been employed with the department.

Brian Shunk, a Dane Co. Sheriff’s Office detective, reappeared on the stand and discussed blood found on a tarp from a Cottage Grove property where Bart Halderson’s remains were found. Yellow tape was also found on the tarp, which is consistent with a roll found in the Halderson’s home.

Two members from the Wisconsin State Crime Lab took the stand next, with one determining bullet fragments found in the Halderson home’s basement was fired from the gun found at the Cottage Grove property last October.

Analysis from one expert revealed no fingerprints on a bloody axe found in the Halderson home, but there was a fingerprint on the tape consistent with Chandler Halderson’s prints. The defense challenged this finding, saying there is no way to know how the prints got onto an object and we also can’t tell when the prints were put there.

An analysis of shoes found in the Halderson home and shoe prints found on a tarp from a garbage can determined that the prints were consistent with shoes found in the home. The defense took exception to this finding, saying the print determined the type of shoe but was not able to figure out the size.

A separate Wisconsin State Crime Lab employee, Meghann McMahon, determined rope found around Bart Halderson’s remains was consistent with rope found in the Halderson’s garage.

She also talked about a broken saw blade found in the Cottage Grove property and a saw frame found in the Halderson home, determining there is a physical fit between the two of them.

As court broke for the state, prosecutors said one of their witnesses for Wednesday appeared to show signs of COVID-19. A similar witness who is a records custodian can testify in their place, which the defense said they were fine with.

NBC15 conducted an interview with Chandler Halderson the day of his arrest, but before he was taken into custody and formally considered a suspect in his parents’ deaths. Chandler had only consented to an audio interview, which is why he doesn’t appear on camera.

NBC15 conducted a full interview with Chandler Halderson, 23, prior to authorities charging him with alleged homicide counts.

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