Associated Press

New trial ordered in 1987 homicide

TODD RICHMOND | Associated Press | Posted: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 6:05 am

MADISON — A judge ordered a new trial Monday for a man accused of killing a young woman and hanging her body in a tree 23 years ago, saying there is evidence to suggest someone else did it.

Angela Hackl was found in the woods outside Sauk City in 1987. She had been shot and hanged by the neck from a tree branch with a chain, and a pile of brush was arranged beneath her body in a makeshift pyre.

A jury convicted Terry Vollbrecht, now 49, of killing Hackl in 1989. He was sentenced to life in prison. Attorneys with the Wisconsin Innocence Project have been working for years to free him. They have argued new evidence suggests another man who is serving a life sentence for killing a different woman and chaining her to a tree also killed Hackl.

Dodge County Circuit Judge Steven Bauer, who is presiding over Vollbrecht’s appeal in Sauk County, agreed the evidence could create doubt in jurors’ minds about Vollbrecht’s guilt and ordered a new trial.

Innocence Project co-director Keith Findley, Vollbrecht’s lead attorney, said his group has been working on the case for more than a decade. “We’re thrilled that Terry Vollbrecht has finally had the opportunity to present a full case,” Findley said.

According to court documents, Hackl was last seen at Hondo’s Bar in Sauk City during the early morning hours of Friday, June 12, 1987. She left the bar with Vollbrecht, who drove the couple away in Hackl’s boyfriend’s car.

Hackl’s nearly naked body was found hanging from a tree in the “The Pines,” a popular party area for young people in the woods outside the city, the following Monday. She had been strung up with a tire chain from the trunk of her boyfriend’s car, sexually assaulted and shot in the back three times. It appeared the killer had planned to burn her body.

Vollbrecht told investigators he met Hackl at the bar. He said they drove to the woods and had consensual sex on a sleeping bag, and Hackl then drove him back to Sauk City.

But several people who knew him and were in the area where he said Hackl dropped him off told detectives they never saw him. The day after Hackl disappeared, Vollbrecht told his hairstylist he didn’t do it or if he did, he didn’t remember.

Prosecutors contended that Vollbrecht sexually assaulted and killed Hackl after she resisted his advances. He was convicted of first-degree murder and first-degree sexual assault in December 1989. A state appeals court has twice upheld his convictions.

Attorneys at the Wisconsin Innocence Project have tried to point the finger at Kim Brown, who was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing Linda Nachreiner in July 1987.

Nachreiner was found in the woods near Oxford, about 30 miles from the area where Hackl was found. That area also was known as a popular party location for young people.

According to a pre-sentencing report, Brown said after he sexually assaulted Nachreiner, he chained her to a tree and shot her in the back of the head.

State investigators decided in September 1987 that Nachreiner and Hackl’s deaths weren’t similar. But the Innocence Project maintains prosecutors withheld from the defense an affidavit from one of Brown’s fellow jail inmates. That inmate claimed Brown told him he liked to chain women to trees and light them on fire. The inmate also said Brown stuck his arm out, pointed his finger like a gun and said “boom.”

The Innocence Project also argued that another man in jail with Brown in 1987 said Brown told him it was better to “chain them up and when done with them, burn them.”

In 1992 one of Brown’s fellow prison inmates said he overheard Brown say he raped, shot and tied Hackl to a tree. Brown said he was going to light her on fire, but the lighter didn’t work, according to the Innocence Project. A year later another prison inmate said Brown told him someone else was being punished for Hackl’s death and he, Brown, had killed her.

The Innocence Project also has argued DNA tests found semen from an unknown third party on the sleeping bag and on Hackl’s body.

Bauer said Brown’s statements raise questions about Vollbrecht’s guilt, but cautioned a jury could still convict him.

Online court records didn’t list Brown’s 1987 homicide case or an attorney for him.

Bill Cosh, a spokesman for the state Department of Justice, which handles felony appeals for local prosecutors, said in a statement the agency spent “significant” time and effort on upholding Vollbrecht’s conviction.

“Today’s ruling is not the end of this matter,” Cosh said. He declined further comment.

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