MARINETTE—Marinette County Circuit Judge Jim Morrison denied a key defense motion in the double murder case against a man accused of killing a young couple nearly 45 years ago at a county campground.
The motions hearing took place Thursday in Branch 2. Morrison made his ruling on Friday.
Raymond Vannieuwenhoven, 84, Lakewood, is charged in a July 9, 1976 double murder of a Green Bay couple who was camping at McClintock Park in the Town of Silver Cliff. David Schuldes, 25, and Ellen Matheys, 24, were shot and killed at the campground. They were engaged.
Matheys was sexually assaulted but that charge has been dismissed because the statute of limitations has elapsed. There is no statute of limitations for the two first-degree homicide charges against Vannieuwenhoven.
The case went cold for many years until a Virginia lab, utilizing new DNA technology, informed the Marinette County Sheriff’s Department that it had made a break in the case.
The state is represented by Marinette County District Attorney DeShea Morrow and special prosecutor Mark Williams. The defense is led by attorneys Lee Schuchart and Travis Crowell.
The defense first filed a “Denny” motion on March 19 to admit evidence labeling Robert Lukesh as a potential suspect in this case.
The Denny rule is unique to the State of Wisconsin and stems from a 1984 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling in the case State v. Denny. In short, it states that the defense in any trial cannot suggest other suspects for the crime the defendant is accused of without being able to support that accusation with a possible motive from the new suspect, a proven opportunity for the suspect to commit that crime, and the ability to place them within proximity to the crime scene.
The defense argued that Lukesh—by everyone’s account was an awful man who drugged and sexually assaulted his children and foster children, used the family dog in some of his assaults and physically beat his wife and children—met the three standards of the Denny rule to make him a suspect.
“We believe that the evidence, when taken as a whole, when taken in the aggregate, does show motive, opportunity and a direct connection ....,” Crowell said. “We believe this evidence should be weighed by a jury.”
Morrison asked Crowell what he believed to be Lukesh’s motive.
“We believe that—as he stated to other people—that he wanted to commit the perfect crime and see if he could get away with it,” Crowell said.
The defense has stated that Lukesh had a motive as in 1954 he was pardoned for a rape conviction and he had direct connection as he had an “unusually close relationship with a lot of the deputies” and that he gave details of the crime that only the person who committed it would know.
Morrow countered that this crime was not Lukesh’s normal pattern of assault. She said his regular behavior was to assault and terrorize members of his own family and not commit random acts against complete strangers.
Morrow also stated that Lukesh already was ruled out as a suspect.
“Robert Lukesh has been excluded, just like Merv Walker (the subject of another Denny motion that was denied in March) has been excluded,” she said of DNA testing in 1997. Lukesh died in 2000.
The state also questioned the time element because Lukesh lived a significant distance (40 minutes) from the crime scene.
Crowell again argued that the evidence, along with expert testimony, needs to be heard by a jury.
Morrow said the defense is making “a lot of speculation” concerning this motion.
Before adjourning on Thursday, Morrison said, “What’s clear to me is that Mr. Lukesh was a very, very despicable human being. ... Mr. Lukesh had lots of different stories about what happened here and lots of the things he said about what happened were just wrong. ... The timeline may or may not be a problem.”
In his written ruling, Morrison states that Lukesh may havehad motive, “although no specific motive against these individuals was shown but may have a generalized motive arising out of his negative personality.”
The judge wrote that the second prong, opportunity to commit the crime, is very thin. He said the real problem lies in Lukesh’s connection to the crime.
In summary, Morrison wrote, “... a theory without a direct connection is not enough to support Denny evidence. For that reason, the motion with respect to Robert Lukesh is denied.”
A pretrial conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. June 22. A 10-day jury trial is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. July 19.