DARLINGTON — Jaren Kuester, who put much of southwestern Wisconsin on edge last April when he randomly and savagely murdered three well-known Wiota area farmers, was ordered Friday to spend the rest of his life in a mental institution.
Kuester, 31, of Waukesha, sat stoically through emotional testimony from the children of two of the murder victims in Lafayette County Circuit Court before being sentenced by Dane County Circuit Judge William Foust.
He had previously pleaded guilty to beating, stabbing and impaling Gary Thoreson, 70, and his wife, Chloe Thoreson, 66, and beating to death Gary Thoreson’s brother, Dean Thoreson, 76.
Police reports said Kuester killed Gary and Chloe Thoreson as they returned home from a four-month visit to San Diego. He had been hiding out in their home after walking aimlessly through the countryside for more than a day. He killed Dean Thoreson as he checked on the home just prior to the couple’s arrival.
In a statement to the court, Krista Kreil, 39, of San Diego, cited autopsy reports to graphically describe how Kuester stabbed her mother 12 times in the scalp, face, neck, hand and arms, and that she choked on her blood before she died.
She said Kuester paralyzed her father by breaking his neck and back but that he still fought off his attacker, incurring broken ribs and defensive wounds on his hands and chest as Kuester beat him with a fireplace poker.
After her parents were dead, Kreil said, Kuester took the fireplace pokers and continuously plunged them through each of her parents’ heads and then shoved her mother’s body in a shower, she said.
“These images haunted me for months,” Kreil said. “Every time I closed my eyes I would imagine them in that bathroom, stakes through their heads. I will never know which one of them died first, but I imagine their last moments together, and I will hate you forever for what you have done.”
Foust said nobody should question medical experts’ claims that Kuester was mentally ill when he committed the crimes. Foust called the psychiatric findings among the most compelling for an insanity case he has seen in his time in the criminal justice system.
Kuester received a different assessment last April from Waukesha County Health and Social Services. His father, Jim Kuester, said he thought his son was delusional and potentially dangerous and took him to a Waukesha County mental health facility with hopes of getting him committed. But Jaren Kuester was turned away because the social worker who examined him said he didn’t meet the standards for an involuntary commitment, according to then-director Peter Schuler.
Kuester killed the Thoresons two days after that assessment .
At the hearing, forensic psychiatrist Craig Schoenecker testified that he had diagnosed Kuester with schizoaffective disorder, and that the symptoms include delusions. He said he believed Kuester was delusional when he committed the murders.
Schoenecker also told the court that Kuester had been diagnosed with several types of mental illness over the past 10 years. But he said he saw none of the symptoms of those previous diagnoses when he examined Kuester.
Lafayette County District Attorney Kate Findley said the killings were among the most vicious crimes ever committed in the county. The fact that Kuester chose the Thoresons at random to murder continues to frighten residents of the largely rural county, she said. She asked Foust to sentence Kuester to three consecutive life commitments to a mental health institution.
Foust acknowledged the request but instead included conditions that Kuester never be released from confinement. “There are no winners in this courtroom today, only people who have lost,” Foust said.
Kreil told Kuester from the witness stand that he can’t use mental illness as an excuse. “You are not a victim in this case,” she said.
Kuester’s attorney, Guy Taylor, told the court that even though, by law, a person who is not mentally responsible for their acts can’t be held morally responsible for them, there is often tremendous frustration and a sense of lack of resolution. “But that is what must happen because that is what the law is and that is what our society’s solution is,” he said.
In a brief statement to the court, Kuester said he had lost touch with reality and was confused after he broke into the family’s house seeking food, shelter and a place to rest. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Looking back, I never imagined anything like this happening.”
Earlier, Bryan Thoreson, Gary and Chloe Thoreson’s son, testified that his parents lived life to the fullest and were successful as parents and in their professions and hobbies because of the passion they brought to their lives.
“Their lives were truly unfinished,” he said.
Foust urged family members to remember the values of their lost loved ones and try to carry those values out. Kreil agreed.
“(My parents) would want us to go on with our lives,” she said after the hearing.