Questions remain on why law enforcement released homicide suspect

Published: Oct. 2, 2023 at 2:15 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2023 at 7:50 PM CDT
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TOMAH, Wis. (WEAU) - The man accused of killing an Eau Claire Woman seven years ago, who walked away from a group home in Tomah last week, has been found and later released.

51-year-old Shane M. Helmbrecht was located safe by the Pojoaque Tribal Police Department near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The main question being asked is how is a man charged with homicide able to go free?

Helmbrecht is accused of shooting and killing his neighbor, Jenn Ward, in Eau Claire in 2016. He was found incompetent to stand trial and was ordered to live in a mental health facility. On Monday, a green alert, which is issued for missing veterans, was sent out after he hadn’t been seen for a few days from the Tomah group home.

Helmbrecht was later found safe by police near the city of Santa Fe. Today, the Eau Claire County sheriff told WEAU that New Mexico police reached out to them to see if they had any basis for holding Helmbrecht. Sheriff Riewestahl said they informed police there they had no legal grounds to hold him, so he was released in New Mexico and law enforcement no longer knows where he is.

The sheriff, as well as staff with the Eau Claire County District Attorney’s office, told us because Helmbrecht’s case changed from a criminal case to a civil case, they have no control over where he goes.

We reached out to the Corporation Counsel about this case and have not heard back. In a conversation with Tomah Police Chief Scott Holum, he shared some of his concerns surrounding the situation.

“Just from the citizen standpoint, if you’re not competent to stand trial on a crime that heinous, you know, how can you be competent to be living in a group home where you can come and go as you please,” Holum said. “I think it defies logic to some people that have expressed that to us.”

This is a developing story and WEAU will continue to update this information as we learn more.

A man accused of killing an Eau Claire woman seven years ago is missing from a Tomah group home, and may be driving his parents vehicle.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Crime Network released a green alert for 51-year-old Shane Helmbrecht. A green alert means a veteran is at risk.

He was last seen at the Tomah group home where he was staying on Friday, September 29th. Staff at the group home had noticed recently that he “has not been acting like his usual self”.

Helmbrecht was charged with first degree intentional homicide for shooting and killing his neighbor, Jen Ward, in 2016. He was found incompetent to stand trial, and was ordered to a mental health facility.

According to court records, a new competency exam report was filed in July. On Monday, records were updated to show Helmbrecht has a status conference scheduled for January.

Officers say while investigating Helmbrecht’s disappearance, they discovered that his parent’s vehicle is missing from their home in Portage. Helmbrecht may be driving the 2003 green Toyota Avalon, four door sedan with Wisconsin license plate 487-FNN.

We reached out to Jamie Kirchoff, the sister of Jen Ward, about the green alert.

Kirchoff told us in part, “If Shane is able to do this, have a license, a cellphone and the ability to come and go then we as a family would like him to stand trial for the murder of my sister Jenn Ward. We hope he is obtained quickly and taken back into fulltime custody.”

Staff with the Eau Claire Police Department said the green alert has been sent to patrol officers to make them aware. WEAU spoke with the Tomah Police Chief Scott Holum who said Tomah police were notified Helmbrecht was missing on Monday. When asked whether there is concern for public safety, Holum said, “listen, I think anybody would look at that and what he’s accused of doing and be concerned. But, the reality is it’s not like he escaped from some secure facility. I mean, he’s basically been a free person for years.”

If located, police say to use caution because of his mental status, history of assault and of him not liking law enforcement. If you have any information, you are asked to contact the Tomah Police Department at (608) 374-7400.