Prosecutors reached a deal Thursday with a Sauk Prairie man who had been awaiting a new trial for his 1989 first-degree murder conviction.

As part of the deal, 52-year-old Terry G. Vollbrecht pleaded no contest to an amended charge of second-degree murder with a dangerous weapon in the 1987 death of 18-year-old Angela F. Hackl.

Dodge County Circuit Court Judge Steven Bauer sentenced him to the maximum 25 years in prison. However, because Vollbrecht already has served 22 years in prison, he has reached his mandatory release date under the law, and will be paroled immediately. He will remain on parole for 2 years and 11 months.

“We continued to identify evidence supporting the alternative suspect theory,” said Vollbrecht’s attorney, Ion Meyn of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. “As that progressed, I think the state also had to adjust to that.”

Hackl was found hanging from a tree west of Sauk City in June 1987. She had been shot in the back several times.

Following a jury trial, Vollbrecht was convicted of first-degree homicide and sentenced to life in prison. He had already served more than 20 years in prison when in January 2011 a Dodge County judge granted him a new trial, saying “the real issue has not been fully tried.”

Vollbrecht was then released on bail when Prairie du Sac businessmen Curt Mueller of Mueller Sports Medicine, Inc., posted $425,000. He has since been living in Prairie du Sac and working at a local manufacturing plant.

Since his release, attorneys for Vollbrecht and the Wisconsin Department of Justice have been prepping for a new trial, which was set to begin in March 2014.

Vollbrecht’s attorneys sought to shift blame for the murder on another person, Kim Brown, who was convicted of a similar murder in Adams County the same summer. Brown stated in 1987 “he liked to chain women to trees, light them on fire and shoot them.” When questioned in proceedings for Vollbrecht, Brown denied killing Hackl.

Meyn said with more and more evidence allowing for the possibility of an alternative suspect, it would have been difficult for a jury to convict Vollbrecht a second time.

“At the end of the day, you have two narratives of what happened, both supported by circumstantial evidence,” Meyn said. “From Terry’s point of view, with this (deal) he can continue to enjoy life as he enjoys it now and not face the risk of going back for something he believes he’s innocent of.”

In a news release Thursday, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen stated that a plea of no contest has “the same legal effect as to guilt as does a plea of guilty” once it is accepted by the court.

The plea agreement requires Vollbrecht to waive his rights to further appeals, which Van Hollen said will provide finality for the victim’s family.

“Today’s plea and conviction are the final step in what has been a long and difficult process for the friends and family of Angela F. Hackl,” Van Hollen said. “For their sake, I am grateful that we were able to conclude this matter without the need for another trial. I hope that this will provide some measure of closure for those who continue to be affected by this crime.”

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Grandma Mary
Grandma Mary

Regardless of J. B. Van Hollen's legalese view of no contest pleas having the same effect as pleas of guilt, most realize there is a vast difference in actual culpability, and that after suffering decades of undeserved incarceration due to a woefully broken justice system, no one could be blamed for doing whatever would most ensure avoidance of any further contact with it.

Griz
Griz

Too bad more people didn't have the wisdom of Grandma Mary. You said it as clearly as it could be said. Others, who believe the two pleas are the same are simply ignorant of the law. Without a doubt, the plea was entered to eliminate any risk of ever being wrongly convicted on those nasty charges again. Be sure that Terry's family and closest friends were consulted before agreeing to end it this way. "Guarantee Your Freedom" was the constant in these discussions. I tip my hat to you, Grandma Mary. God Bless You!