A Baraboo man charged in Oconto County Circuit Court with accidentally shooting his sister in the neck has accepted a plea deal and awaits sentencing next month even as he and his father argue someone else is to blame.
Christopher G. Halase, 30, was charged with second-degree reckless homicide, homicide by negligent handling of a weapon and operating a firearm while under the influence of a controlled substance after police were called to a home at 15183 Heller Lane in the town of Doty for a woman who was bleeding from a gunshot wound to her neck.
Ashley Halase, 31 at the time, died while in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.
Ken Halase, their father, said it isn’t possible that his son shot Ashley.
“If my son accidentally shot his sister, he would say ‘Dad, you know what?’ Because that’s the way I raised my kids. He would say, ‘Dad, you know what...yes, I accidentally did it. And yes, I’m willing to pay a price for that,’” Ken said.
The police were called around midnight Aug. 21, 2020, after Ashley, her husband Mike and Chris had returned from a local bar. The residence where they were staying had targets set up outside. Chris, who had been target shooting from a young age, showed both of them how to fire one of the handguns he had with him at the time since neither were familiar with guns. Then they went inside.
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From there, the witness accounts vary. Statements outline a jovial night. Ashley and her husband had gone into a bedroom where another family member was playing a game on a computer. That family member and Mike both told police that Ashley had been uncontrollably laughing. Chris was sitting at a dining table down the hall, smoking a bowl of weed, Mike said. Ashley’s husband nor the other family member in the room saw a gun. They both heard a single gunshot
Mike initially told police that he saw Chris fiddling with a gun in the doorway before Ashley was shot. About four days later, he spoke to police again, telling them “he did not see Chris point the gun at Ashley or make a ‘symbol or motion’ of a gun with his hands prior to Ashley being shot as in Mike’s previous statement.”
Instead, he said he heard a loud bang that caused his ear to ring and saw Chris running into the room, where Ashley was lying on her back.
“Mike claimed he only saw Chris’ right hand because Chris had his left hand straight down to his side” and “used his right hand to cradle Ashley’s neck” while apologizing to her, according to his statement to investigators.
People who had been playing with the other family member online said they heard the commotion and yelling. They said they heard a man they assumed was Mike because of his accent yelling and asking someone why it happened and one person who heard the incident through their computer said they recognized Chris’ voice in response yelling, “I thought it was unloaded” and that same voice begging Ashley to live.
All three were trying to help Ashley. Chris said he ran to the kitchen and picked up two blue rags, bringing them back to apply pressure to Ashley’s neck. He had also grabbed the phone after they had called for an ambulance, yelling at the dispatchers and hanging up. He ran outside. There was another gunshot. The other relative said she worried he had shot himself, but Chris had gone out to a nearby garage and secured the pistols he kept there.
Chris was visibly upset when an Oconto County Sheriff’s deputy responded to a neighboring driveway, yelling at the officer and not following commands. The deputy put him into the back of his squad car as he yelled about Ashley being shot and that the guns were in the garage. Upon arrival at the residence, two children there who had been in another part of the home said without prompting that Chris shot Ashley.
Chris provided an initial statement to police around 2 a.m. He said he owns a Smith and Wesson .45 auto revolver and a 9mm SCCY CPX-2 handgun. Chris said they hadn’t shot the guns since before the group went to a local bar and that he thought “both firearms were placed in their cases in the garage.” He told police that he heard a bang that made him run to the room, where he saw his sister lying on the bed bleeding. Chris said he grabbed the rags and then told the others to take them as he secured the 9mm and put it in its box in the garage.
He was driven to the county jail by a deputy. A blood draw test taken roughly two hours later found Chris’ blood alcohol content was 0.121%, which is more than the legal limit allowed for driving. Another resident at the home told police that Chris admitted to using cocaine earlier in the day.
Chris was interviewed later that day just before 1:30 p.m. According to a supplemental report from the interviewers, Investigator Troy Sherman and Agent Brad Kust of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation, Chris was not clear when being questioned. He said the shooting was his fault but could not remember what had happened.
Chris told the investigators that “the last he knew both of his guns were in the shed” but couldn’t recall if it had been locked. He said after smoking the marijuana he didn’t remember anything until he heard screaming and ran to the room where Ashley was shot.
Days later, Ken said Chris started to remember more of the night. Specifically, that he had given Mike a gun for protection against possible bears while they camped nearby in tents and walked back to his bowl at the table. Immediately after that, he heard a gunshot.
“Absolutely I believe him,” Ken said. “When he told me this, the look on his face, I could definitely tell he was telling me the truth.”
The gunshot outside was also explained by Chris, who told his father that when he went outside to secure the gun while wearing sandals, he slipped and it went off accidentally. No one wanted to listen when Chris purportedly began remembering these details, Ken said.
Both Ken and Chris feel that Oconto County officials have not handled the case appropriately, especially because Chris was interviewed while likely still intoxicated. Ken said he doesn’t understand why, to his understanding, there were no tests done to see who in the room had residue on their hands showing they had recently fired a weapon.
“This attorney should not even be a prosecuting attorney,” Ken said. “I think my son is being wrongfully convicted.”
Chris entered a no contest plea to one of three charges against him Sept. 7. Oconto County Circuit Court Judge Michael T. Judge ordered a pre-sentence investigation. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 10.
He was charged Aug. 25 with misdemeanor battery and disorderly conduct and felony bail jumping after being arrested for engaging in an alleged bar fight in Baraboo.
According to court records, the plea agreement allows for all of the charges to be “read in” by the judge, who will consider them in sentencing. District Attorney Edward Burke will recommend two years of prison and four years of parole. The maximum sentence for the homicide charge for which Chris will be sentenced is 10 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000.
Ken said he doesn’t want to see his son convicted of a felony he didn’t commit. While Chris has been in trouble with the law before, he has always admitted his guilt and Ken said that’s reason enough to believe Chris.
“When you look at the justice system, there’s so many people out there who have been wrongfully convicted, because officers, DAs, the justice system, fails to do a proper job like they’re trained to do,” Ken Halase said. “No one wants to look at the truth or try to seek any further evidence of what really did happen. You assume just because someone said, ‘Hey, he did it,’ then you’re guilty.”
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