Lawyers for the state and for a Stanley woman accused of fatally stabbing a man in Dunn County have very different theories on what happened in the town of Spring Brook on March 22.
A jury trial for Ezra J. McCandless, 21, is slated to begin April 2 in Dunn County. She is pleading not guilty to first-degree intentional homicide-use of a dangerous weapon in the death of Alexander L. Woodworth, 24, of Eau Claire.
Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Richard Dufour and Dunn County District Attorney Andrea Nodolf say McCandless intentionally “lured Alex to Dunn County to murder him” to rid herself of guilt and regret surrounding her situation, according to a court filing.
But McCandless’ attorneys, Aaron Nelson of Hudson and Deja Vishny of Milwaukee, say Woodworth took “violent and aggressive acts against McCandless in the back seat of a vehicle stuck in the mud in a secluded rural area ... the issue of self-defense was involved.”
Authorities found Woodworth dead in a vehicle in the town of Spring Brook on March 23, 2018. He had been stabbed 16 times, according to a criminal complaint.
The evening before, a Spring Brook man found McCandless, in torn clothing, covered in mud and blood, outside his house.
McCandless told authorities Woodworth 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.
At a Friday motion hearing, Judge James Peterson ruled to allow the testimony of a psychiatrist and an emergency physician from Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire into the trial.
Both sides disagree on whether several pieces of evidence surrounding McCandless’ life in early 2018 should be allowed at the trial.
McCandless filed a report of sexual assault with the Eau Claire Police Department one month before Woodworth was stabbed. But the report was false, an attempt to cover up a consensual sexual relationship with a different man, prosecutors said in a March 6 court filing. Sexually graphic text messages, allegedly between McCandless and the man accused of the assault, show the encounter was consensual, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors also say McCandless was sexually involved with three men at the same time in February 2018.
McCandless was struggling with guilt, regret, gender identity and a move from Eau Claire to Stanley, prosecutors say — and they want to introduce the assault report, McCandless’ journal and several of McCandless’ text messages as evidence, saying the materials are “highly relevant to plan, context and motive/intent.”
McCandless’ attorneys disagree. Prosecutors have no evidence that the sexual assault was falsely reported, and McCandless hasn’t recanted her story, her attorneys say in a court filing: “… the state really has no evidence that McCandless’ report of her sexual encounter with Hansen is an untruthful allegation of sexual assault.”
In another court filing, Nelson asked Peterson to bar testimony from a Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory analyst about DNA evidence from McCandless’ body.
A low-level, partial DNA mixture of at least two males was found on a swab of McCandless’ “external genitals,” according to a Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory report from analyst Kevin Scott.
A low-level DNA mixture of at least three males was found on a pubic swab from McCandless, according to the report.
A DNA profile consistent with Woodworth’s was also detected on a swab of McCandless’ right upper thigh.
Scott’s opinions on the other males’ DNA are “irrelevant,” Nelson wrote in a March 1 court filing.
DNA from McCandless and another male was found on the blade of a folding knife taken from the trunk of the Chevy Impala where Woodworth’s body was found. At least three people’s DNA was found on the knife handle, but there was not enough material to match the profile to anyone involved in the case, according to a Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory report.
DNA from both McCandless and Woodworth was found on red-brown stains inside and outside of the Impala. Woodworth’s DNA was present on red-brown stains on a coat found in the back seat, and on red-brown stains on plants at the crime scene.
McCandless initially entered a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, but withdrew that plea Feb. 6.
Pre-trial motion hearings are scheduled for March 22 and April 2.
McCandless is in custody at the Dunn County Jail.