A Chippewa County woman accused of fatally stabbing a man in the town of Spring Brook withdrew a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect while in court Wednesday.
A lawyer for Ezra J. McCandless, 21, of Stanley said he expects her to testify at her April trial.
McCandless is charged with first-degree intentional homicide (use of a dangerous weapon) in the March 2018 death of Alexander L. Woodworth, 24, of Eau Claire.
A Spring Brook man found McCandless, wearing torn clothing and covered in mud and blood, outside his house around 4:15 p.m. March 22.
Authorities found Woodworth dead in a vehicle parked on a farm road in Spring Brook the next day, according to a criminal complaint. He had been stabbed 16 times.
McCandless told authorities Woodworth had attacked her and carved the word “boy” into her arm, but she took the knife from him and stabbed him multiple times, according to the complaint.
The angle of the wounds indicated they could be self-inflicted, according to a doctor who examined McCandless on March 22. McCandless later said she cut the word into her arm after she stabbed Woodworth.
McCandless was an employee of the Stanley-Boyd Area School District as of March 22, according to court filings.
As of Wednesday, McCandless is pleading not guilty. She smiled and greeted her mother when she entered the courtroom and gave one-word answers to Judge James Peterson’s questions.
After receiving a doctor’s report, McCandless and her attorney Aaron Nelson of Hudson decided the defense could not meet the burden of proof of an insanity plea, Nelson said at a hearing Wednesday.
In a successful insanity defense, a person isn’t held responsible for criminal acts if the defense proves that at the time of the crime, the defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect and because of that couldn’t understand their actions were wrong or conform to the law, according to Wisconsin statute.
Attorney Deborah Vishny of Milwaukee is also defending McCandless.
Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Richard Dufour and Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf are prosecuting the case.
Despite the change, McCandless’ trial — initially scheduled for nearly three weeks, April 2-22 — will still begin April 2 with a pre-trial hearing, Peterson ruled Wednesday. A jury will be chosen April 3.
At a March 8 hearing, Peterson is expected to decide if the jury will hear about past sexual assaults of McCandless.
McCandless told multiple people that she was assaulted by two people as a child, by a man in 2017 and by another man in 2018.
The Eau Claire Police Department is investigating the 2018 assault allegation against one of the men, according to a court filing.
That man’s lawyer has said that if called as a witness in the trial, the man will invoke his right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.
Nelson said Wednesday he wants the trial “to be about what happened on March 22, 2018,” and argued McCandless’ sexual trauma from the past isn’t relevant unless it’s between her and Woodworth.
“McCandless’ sexual history and prior sexual assaults are not relevant to whether she intended to kill Woodworth, or if she did, whether she was acting in self-defense,” Nelson said.
Also at the March 8 hearing, Peterson will decide if expert testimony surrounding McCandless’ injuries will be allowed into the trial.
Nelson is challenging several doctors the prosecution has called to testify.
McCandless had several injuries, including marks on her neck and cuts on her stomach, forearm, palm, inner and outer thigh and genital area, Nelson said. The prosecution isn’t stating which doctors examined McCandless and what they found; Nelson said, “We don’t have the notice of what their expert opinion is even going to be.”
Nelson said he plans to argue Woodworth was the “first aggressor” in his opening statement, and said the prosecution will argue that McCandless did.
The trial may continue on April 19, which is Good Friday, despite county offices typically being closed that day, Peterson said.
McCandless is in custody at the Dunn County Jail.