Man pleads in 2002 deaths of Sparta coupleA Neillsville man has pleaded no contest in the 2002 shooting deaths of a Sparta couple.
By: By Chris Hubbuch, La Crosse Tribune, Wis., Superior Telegram
SPARTA, Wis. -- A Neillsville man was convicted in the 2002 shooting deaths of a Sparta couple Monday, just two weeks before he was scheduled to stand trial for their slaying.
Larry Schaffer pleaded no contest in Monroe County Circuit Court to two counts of reckless homicide in the deaths of deaths of Kale Kvistad Jr. and Connie DeGeorge.
Schaffer, 44, faces up to 20 years in prison, though prosecutors agreed to ask for no more than 16 as part of a plea agreement in which two additional counts of hiding a corpse were dismissed.
"It's not perfect," Monroe County District Attorney Dan Cary said of the agreement to reduce the most serious charges from first-degree intentional homicide, which carried mandatory life sentences.
Cary cited problems with the case -- Schaffer's alleged accomplice is dead; witnesses have changed their stories; memories of the events have faded over time -- as motivations for the plea deal. After Monday's hearing, Judge David Rice released one witness who had been held on a $20,000 bond after not appearing as ordered.
Defense attorney Russell Hanson pointed out that Schaffer was at work in Milwaukee at 6 a.m. on the day after the killing and that the investigation produced no physical evidence tying him to the scene.
Kvistad, 30, and DeGeorge, 34, disappeared from their home on Easter Sunday in 2002, leaving three children in the house. A hunter found their remains in December 2004 under brush in a remote area near Fort McCoy. Both had been shot in the head.
Schaffer, a longtime suspect, was arrested in January 2011. According to a criminal complaint, his former girlfriend told investigators in 2005 that Schaffer ripped off drug dealers and had come home in the spring of 2002 with an ounce of cocaine and told her he "took care of" a guy and his wife.
Schaffer's sister testified last year that she witnessed him rape DeGeorge before shooting her and Kvistad.
At least 11 police officers attended Monday's hearing, with two sitting immediately behind Schaffer, who sat shackled next to his attorney.Gaunt and with a thick black beard flecked with white, Schaffer quietly answered "yes" to a series of questions from the judge.He said he worked for "a couple years" as a welder after graduating from high school in 1986. Asked what mental condition he was being treated for, Schaffer replied, "I don't know, man."
Schaffer previously pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect. Hanson said his client is "of at least average intelligence and he understands what he's doing."
Rice ordered Schaffer held without bond pending sentencing, which had not been scheduled Monday.
Kvistad's sister, Kari Kjornes, listened to Monday's hearing by speaker phone from her home in California. She said after the hearing that it was a relief to have the case closed, but she thinks the potential penalty is too light.
"He took two people's lives and is only getting the 16 years. I don't think it's right." But she said she understood the difficulties the prosecution face. Her father was more blunt.
Said Kale Kvistad Sr.: "I wish they'd hang him."
(c)2012 the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.)
Visit the La Crosse Tribune (La Crosse, Wis.) at www.lacrossetribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services