Prosecutors on Monday took jurors through evidence collected from accused murderer Chandler Halderson’s home and from the hobby farm where the headless torso of his father was found, including the rifle they believe Halderson used to kill his father and the shoe where he’d hidden both his parents’ phones and driver’s licenses.
Halderson, 23, is charged with killing and dismembering his parents, Bart and Krista Halderson, and then burning parts of their bodies in a family fireplace before scattering other parts around southern Wisconsin. The dozens of photos and pieces of physical evidence introduced Monday, the fifth day of testimony, included three rifle magazines containing a total of 55 rounds of ammunition, a bullet fragment and casing, and an ax covered with human blood — all found in the Windsor home Chandler and his parents shared.
Prosecutors say Chandler committed the murders at home on July 1 after his father discovered he’d been lying about attending Madison Area Technical College — one of a series of lies prosecutors say he’d long been telling the world about his education and his work for American Family Insurance, SpaceX and as a scuba diver. In reality, they say, Halderson was unemployed and had dropped out of school.
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The rifle was found behind some boards in the barn on the property where Bart’s torso was found, but not until three months after the barn was first searched by the Dane County Sheriff’s Office in the days after the discovery of the torso and long after the property had been turned back over to its owners, the girlfriend of Chandler’s then-girlfriend’s mother, Cresent L’Sai, and her family.
Prosecutors brought in witnesses from the Sheriff’s Office to explain how the search of the barn was conducted and displayed photos of its interior packed with tools, boxes, two tractors and other items.
Lt. Jessamy Torres said she oversaw that search on July 12 and described missing the rifle as an “oversight” and “human error.” L’Sai found the rifle in October and reported it to the Sheriff’s Office.
Deputy Erik Schneider also described how, just after the torso was found, he found several items used for sawing and cutting, including a bolt cutter and saw blade, on the inside of an old oil tank on the L’Sai property. He was among a group of crime scene investigators who found a tarp stained with a reddish or brown substance in the barn, and he was the one to unpack the rifle and show it to the jury on Monday.
Prosecutors say Chandler was fond of Russian-made rifles like the one found in the barn and had been given such a rifle by a friend with whom he played online first-person-shooter video games.
Crime scene investigator Greg Leatherberry also testified Monday about finding the three rifle magazines hidden behind a section of insulation on a basement wall of the Halderson home, and that the bullets they contained were of the same type as the bullet Chandler had given to his brother, Mitchell, a few weeks before the killings. That bullet had “get well” written on it and was meant as a gift after Mitchell was diagnosed with diabetes.
Detective Dan Feeney identified photos presented Monday of a plastic Target shopping bag found in a garbage cart on the L’Sai property. On the bag was a sticker with the first initial and last name of Halderson’s girlfriend at the time, Cat Mellender, and inside the bag was another plastic bag containing rags stained with a reddish or brown substance and two Brillo pads.
Mellender was given the bag when picking up groceries on July 1 at Target, according to her testimony last week. That bag was then brought over to Halderson’s home on July 2, prosecutors contend. Feeney said when he opened the bag, he first smelled cleaning supplies, which were quickly “overtaken by a rancid, putrid smell.”
Leatherberry also testified about the drops of blood found near the family’s downstairs fireplace, as well as the piece of human bone found in it, and that his attention was drawn to different kinds of burn residue on the fireplace’s grate.
“I knew that there was something more burnt in this fireplace than wood products,” he said.
Testimony from the Sheriff’s Office last week was that Bart’s torso was found in a wooded area of the L’Sai property three days after Chandler had been seen in the area July 5.
Found in the same stand of woods was a Rubbermaid garbage cart containing a tarp that also appeared stained with a red or brown substance, according to testimony Monday from deputy James Plenty, who noted that in photos of the scene vegetation under the cart was still green, suggesting the cart had only recently been placed there.
Plenty also testified about searching for shoes in the Halderson home in an attempt to match tread marks found at the L’Sai property to shoes at the home. The jury saw photos of a pair of Brooks Launch 5 running shoes with what appeared to be spots of blood on one of them, and then of a floral-print shoe that had been hidden under some shelving in the Halderson’s garage and found to contain two phones and Bart and Krista Halderson’s driver’s licenses wrapped in a paper towel and foil.
Prosecutors contend that a text message Chandler received on July 4 from his mother’s phone — and which he pointed to as proof she was still alive — was really sent by Chandler from his mother’s phone after he’d killed her.
Other evidence introduced or referenced Monday included:
- An email exchange between Bart and Krista about MATC.
- A toothbrush head believed to have been used by Krista.
- Black lengths of rope found in the Halderson garage and around Bart’s torso.
- An empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide, a common cleaning agent.
- A swab containing human blood that had been taken of a drain of a freezer in the family’s basement.
On Friday, the jury saw images of parts of Krista’s body recovered from undeveloped land owned by the Department of Natural Resources near Prairie du Sac on the Wisconsin River.
The prosecution contends that around the time he killed his parents, Halderson concocted a story about the two of them having left town for the family cabin on July 2 with an unidentified couple. No evidence was found that Bart and Krista had been to the cabin, in Langlade County on Sawyer Lake.
The defense has not presented its case yet and its cross-examination of prosecution witnesses has been limited.
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Deputy Erik Schneider described how, just after the torso was found, he found several items used for sawing and cutting, including a bolt cutter and saw blade, on the inside of an old oil tank on the property.