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Jeremy Wand's guilty pleas stand
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DARLINGTON - A Green County judge Friday denied a former Argyle man's post-conviction request to withdraw his guilty pleas to homicides in connection with a 2012 house fire that killed the man's three young nephews.

Judge Thomas Vale said the court "went to great lengths" to make sure Jeremy Wand, now 21, understood the consequences of his guilty pleas before he was sentenced in August 2013 in Lafayette County Circuit Court.

Wand's motion to withdraw his pleas included new expert evaluation of the fire and of his interviews with special agents in the days after the fire, but Vale said Friday these expert reports don't bring forth new evidence, only offer second opinions.

At a certain point, he said, adding analysis simply turns into a "battle of the experts."

Vale sentenced Wand in August 2013 to life imprisonment, with eligibility to petition for parole after 35 years, on Sept. 8, 2048. Wand is serving his sentence at a prison in Green Bay. In July 2014, a state appeals court dismissed Wand's attempt to appeal the case.

The motion Vale considered Friday is not the first time Wand has sought to reverse his guilty pleas in the homicide case.

Hours before Vale sentenced Wand in 2013, he denied the teen's request to withdraw his guilty pleas, ruling that the evidence was too feeble to support Wand's claim that he deserved to take back his pleas and take the case to trial.

Wand and his brother Armin Wand III, 35, are convicted of conspiring to set the older brother's Argyle rental home on fire in order to kill his wife and children and cash out on their life insurance.

The house on Oak Street, since torn down, lit up in flames shortly after 3 a.m. Sept. 7, 2012, and killed the older brother's three boys, Allan Wand, 7, Jeffery Wand, 5, and Joseph "Jo Jo" Wand, 3. The fire so severely burned the boys' mother, Sharon Wand, now 30, that she spent months in a coma and lost the fetus she was carrying. Her toddler daughter, Jessica Wand, also survived.

Armin Wand III was sentenced in April 2013 to three consecutive life sentences, without chance for parole. He has since also sought to appeal his case. Unlike his younger brother, who was charged as a party to a crime, Armin is believed to have been the instigator and leader in the arson plot. He told investigators that Jeremy, then a senior in high school, agreed to help him for a $300 cut of the life insurance pay-out.

George Tauscheck, the defense attorney appointed to Jeremy Wand's case post-conviction and the writer of the latest motion, asked a professor of psychology and legal studies at Beloit College to review the 10 hours of interrogation that led to Wand's confession in the days after the fire.

Interrogators "put Jeremy through the emotional wringer, intimidated him, pressured him and refused to accept his account, from which he does not stray until he seems to accept the possibility that he did something but did not remember it," Dr. Lawrence T. White wrote in an analysis filed with the motion.

"Why would my mind do this to me?" White quotes Wand as asking interrogators.

White wrote that while he "cannot offer a professional opinion as to the truthfulness" of Wand's self-incriminating statements, he believes they were the product of the interrogators' errors of misclassification, coercion and contamination.

"To my knowledge, Jeremy did not independently provide investigators with any information about the crime," he wrote (emphasis in original).

Tauscheck also sought analysis from Paul Bieber, a fire expert who specializes in criminal defense and is founder and director of The Arson Research Project in San Jose, Calif. Bieber concluded that the fire at the Wand rental house "cannot be substantiated as arson."

Tauscheck's motion also maintained that Frank Medina, Wand's public defender leading up to sentencing, "never believed Wand's claim of innocence, thinking instead that Wand was confused and suffering post-traumatic stress disorder."

Tauscheck argued that Medina's performance was deficient and prejudicial. He said Medina operated under a conflict of interest because he would have had to assert his own ineffectiveness to effectively seek a reversal of Wand's guilty pleas.

But Vale called Tauscheck's reasoning a "circular argument," echoing a phrase from the prosecutors' response briefs to the motion.

Vale said Wand would need to take any further motions in his case to the state Court of Appeals.