Man enters, withdraws plea in alleged wrench attack on wife

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WAUKESHA — A Town of Waukesha man who reportedly attacked his wife with a pipe wrench on Feb. 1 attempted to enter a plea in the case Friday morning as the first step of a plea of mental disease or defect, but the plea was withdrawn amid questions of his understanding of the process.

Peter Slesar, 66, is charged with attempted first-degree homicide in the Feb. 1 attack on his wife, Catherine, at their Maplewood Terrace home, in which he reportedly struck her in the head a dozen times or more with a pipe wrench after battling depression for months and then called 911 to summon help.

Defense attorney Matt Huppertz said during Friday morning’s plea hearing the intent was for a special plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, also referred to as an NGI plea, which means there were three phases: First, a plea to the charge; second, a discussion of whether he was mentally responsible — that is, whether he lacked the mental capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct; and then a decision about placement or conditional release — an approach Deputy District Attorney Ted Szczupakiewicz agreed with.

But as Judge Lloyd Carter went through the plea discussion with Slesar — during which Slesar gave crisp, prompt answers of “yes, sir” and explained that he had a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in social work — things got sidetracked.

Carter asked Slesar if he understood that his intended plea of no contest meant he was conceding that the state likely had enough evidence to convince a jury of his guilt in that he acted to cause the death of another person with the intent to kill, but Slesar said he had some questions about formation of intent.

“The reason I entered the NGI plea is I believe there were factors that interfered with my ability to consent,” he said. “I realize the facts are provable. The critical piece is … what was my frame of mind, my mental ability to take a look at the choices I had and come to a reasonable conclusion.

I believe I was not able to come to a reasonable conclusion because of mental illness. … I believe that there are these extenuating factors standing in the way of my ability to form intent.” Huppertz said Slesar has denied an intent to kill his wife, but jury instructions provide that the behavior is practically certain to cause death and that was the basis for entry of a plea.

After a discussion of the difference between Slesar admitting guilt and conceding that the state has enough evidence to prove his guilt, Carter said he was not comfortable with taking the plea until he is sure Slesar understands the interplay between a no contest plea and a finding of mental responsibility.

Huppertz asked for a continuance despite saying Slesar wanted to resolve things Friday. A further hearing was set for July 18 to be sure Slesar had time to fully understand the proceedings.

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