MADISON, Wis. - A judge on Thursday ordered a former Wisconsin sheriff's deputy to stand trial in the shooting deaths of his wife and sister-in-law.
Police found the bodies of Andrew Steele's wife, Ashlee Steele, and his sister-in-law, Kacee Tollefsbol, at the Steeles' home in Fitchburg, a Madison suburb, on Aug. 22.
Tollefsbol told police before she died that her brother-in-law had shot her, according to court documents. Prosecutors charged Andrew Steele last week with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide.
"A reasonable person would conclude a crime was committed and the defendant committed it," Dane County Circuit Judge Steven Ebert said at a brief preliminary hearing Thursday.
The only witness who testified was Matthew Wiza, a Fitchburg detective who was the first officer to reach the Steele home.
He told Assistant District Attorney Andrea Raymond that when he responded to a call of a gunshot victim in the Steeles' basement shortly before 1 p.m., he found a haze of smoke in the backyard and blood on the patio. He said he heard a woman crying out that she was dying and found Tollefsbol, 38, covered in blood in a basement recreation room.
He immediately asked her who had shot her and she said it was her brother-in-law. She was unable to answer any further questions, Wiza said, because "her health was declining." He later learned that she had been shot in the torso, he said.
Court documents indicate Tollefsbol had called 911 and told a dispatcher that her brother-in-law had shot her.
Wiza said he later learned that a SWAT team discovered Ashlee Steele, 39, shot in the head in the master bedroom and found Andrew Steele sitting in a laundry room with a pistol. The suspect had started the dryer and vented it back into the room and he had set up a grill loaded with hot charcoal in the room.
Steele looked on silently from the defense table, his ankles and hands shackled, as defense attorney Jessa Nicholson asked Wiza whether he saw any signs of a struggle in the house. He said he couldn't answer that because he was inside for only about four minutes before he carried Tollefsbol out to a waiting firefighter.
The motive for the slayings remains a mystery. Court documents are silent on the subject and Nicholson told reporters after the hearing that no motive has emerged.
Steele resigned from the Dane County Sheriff's Department in June after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, which attacks nerve cells and can lead to paralysis and death. The average life expectancy is two to five years after diagnosis.
Nicholson said she plans to explore the effect the disease has had on Steele. According to the ALS Association, sufferers can sometimes experience problems with thinking and behavior. She said she would also determine whether Tollefsbol actually implicated him.
Ashlee Steele was leading a fundraising drive for her husband when she was killed.