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Halderson trial

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Chandler Halderson at his trial Tuesday. Prosecutors say he burned his parents’ heads in their fireplace, then disposed of the rest of their bodies in rural areas.

Chandler Halderson was living a lie, the prosecution in his murder trial said Tuesday, about having a job, going to school and having a better job waiting for him in Florida.

And when his father figured it out, the prosecution claims, Halderson decided to kill him and his mother and get rid of their bodies, first in the family fireplace and then around southern Wisconsin — and then he lied about that, too.

Halderson trial

Chandler Halderson enters Dane County Circuit Court for the opening of his trial Tuesday. Halderson, 23, faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide and mutilating and hiding a corpse in connection with the death of his parents, Bart and Krista Halderson, last July.

Halderson, 23, presented himself to the world as a soon-to-be graduate of a renewable resources engineering program at Madison Area Technical College with a job at American Family Insurance but a better one waiting for him at Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Deputy District Attorney William Brown said in his opening statement.

Halderson went so far as to fabricate dozens if not hundreds of emails between him and MATC and American Family in an attempt to justify the story he was telling the world, including to his father, Bart Halderson, who was starting to ask questions about why his son never seemed to have any money, Brown said.

Halderson trial

Dane County Circuit Judge John Hyland responds to a question from a prosecuting attorney during the trial of Chandler Halderson.

Then Bart Halderson, posing as his son during a phone call with a front-line worker at MATC last summer, discovered Chandler hadn’t been going to school, Brown said. He let Chandler know of the call, Brown said, and told him of a meeting he’d scheduled between the two of them and MATC officials for 3 p.m. on July 1.

Realizing he was about to be exposed, Chandler shot his father in the back in the Windsor home they shared with Chandler’s mother, Krista Halderson, just before that meeting was to begin, the prosecution contends. He killed Krista Halderson when she returned home a few hours later, Brown said, and then spent the next five days trying to dispose of their bodies before filing falsified missing persons reports with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office on July 7.

“A lot of cases begin with a murder. This one is just a small piece of the puzzle,” Brown told the 18-member jury during his hour-plus opening statement. “Chandler spun an amazing web of lies.”

In her own opening statement, defense attorney Catherine Dorl called her client “just a normal kid” who liked to play video games and didn’t kill his parents, and raised the possibility that no one will ever know how Bart, 50, and Krista, 53, died.

Halderson trial

Defense attorney Catherine Dorl described her client as a “normal kid” and said no one will ever know how his parents died.

“They simply don’t know what happened,” she said of the prosecution, and leaned heavily in her own 10-minute opening statement on the jury’s responsibility to presume her client innocent, urging them to put aside their emotions when viewing disturbing evidence and to rely on logic. It is not a juror’s job to be a “story collaborator,” she said.

“Don’t assume anything. Assumption is the mother of all mistakes,” she said. “Look for what’s missing. Look for alternate explanations.”

Halderson trial

Dane County Deputy District Attorney William Brown listens to the opening statement by defense attorney Catherine Dorl.

Dorl said the state’s witnesses and the evidence would not be “hotly contested” by the defense and that it’s not possible to know how Bart and Krista Halderson might have responded to Chandler’s lies. She also made clear that, at the end of the trial, defense attorneys could stand before the jury conceding that the state did convict Chandler of some crimes, but not murder.

Reported missing

Brown said Chandler went to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office on July 7 with an unlikely and sometimes shifting story, telling deputies his parents had been picked up early on the morning of July 2 by an unknown couple for a trip to the family cabin in Langlade County, about three hours away.

Chandler said they took a number of tools, including a hatchet and gas cans to fill up a chainsaw, Brown and witnesses said Tuesday, as well as an unusually large amount of alcohol and several thousand dollars in cash.

Chandler later told investigators he’d only heard from them one time since — a July 4 text from his mother saying they were going to attend a parade in White Lake that day, according to Brown and the criminal complaint in the case. The prosecution contends Chandler sent that text to himself from his mother’s phone, which investigators found hidden in a shoe in the family’s garage, according to Brown, and the parade had actually been on July 3.

During testimony Tuesday, the prosecution played body camera footage from the Langlade County Sheriff’s Office as they helped Chandler’s older brother, Mitchell Halderson, and his girlfriend investigate whether anyone was at the family cabin on Sawyer Lake in the days after Chandler said his parents went missing. Deputies entered the cabin and two outbuildings on the property but found no evidence that anyone had been there, according to the footage.

Mitchell Halderson testified that it would have been very unusual for his parents to go out of town without his mother telling anyone, and that while his parents drank, they were not heavy drinkers and not known to gamble.

Among the 12 witnesses called by the prosecution Tuesday were six deputies or detectives who worked on the case, including Dane County deputy Josh Seeley, who said during a visit to the family’s home after Chandler filed the missing persons reports that Chandler seemed “aloof,” and “to me there was no sense of urgency” about his parents’ disappearance.

Deputy Hayley Collins-LeFevre testified that she found it odd that Chandler went into detail about helping his parents pack for their trip and about medical issues the two had, but couldn’t say who they’d left with on July 2 or when.

Body parts found

Brown said Chandler spent part of the Fourth of July weekend cutting up his parents and burning their body parts in the family fireplace, where investigators found a tape measure, presumably to measure what would fit, and a piece of a human skull.

“He had burned his parents’ heads in that fireplace,” he said.

He said testimony would show that eventually Chandler realized a fireplace isn’t hot enough to destroy human remains, and so decided to dump most of his father’s body on land in rural Dane County owned by the partner of his girlfriend’s mother, and parts of his mother on land along the Wisconsin River near Prairie du Sac that he’d visited before in the past to swim and hang out with friends.

Investigators would later find Bart’s torso on a part of the Dane County property a witness saw him near, Brown said. And while investigators have searched multiple locations, including a landfill, nothing more than Krista’s legs have been recovered, Brown said.

Krista’s former boss and friend at Zimbrick Automotive, Curtis Van Pelt, described her in testimony as a kind, warm and conscientious person who uncharacteristically didn’t schedule to have time off Friday, July 2, or Monday, July 5, and didn’t call to say she wasn’t coming in. Daniel Kroninger, who used to work with Krista at Zimbrick last year, said that if she had had plans to visit the cabin over the holiday, she would have shared them with co-workers, but she didn’t.

He said he went to the Halderson home on July 2 to check on Krista and Chandler answered the door with a bandage on one of his toes and a story about how there was “blood all over the place” because he’d broken part of the fireplace glass cover while playing with the family dogs.

He said Chandler texted him two days later to ask if he and his girlfriend could join him and his girlfriend to socialize, and the two came over later that night.

Mitchell Halderson described his father as sometimes absent from the family as he and his brother were growing up because he was working a lot, and his mother as a stay-at-home mom while her sons were younger and a “helicopter parent,” but that both were good and caring parents.

Chandler Halderson is charged with two counts each of first-degree intentional homicide, mutilating a corpse, hiding a corpse and falsifying information about a missing person.

The trial continues Wednesday and is expected to last about three weeks.

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