A new judge will be assigned to the case involving Troy Traut, 35, of Pine River, formerly of Alexandria.
Traut is one of two men who faced charges after the beating and eventual death of Steven Hlinsky, 46, of Forada in May 2018.
In the five-minute hearing Thursday, Aug. 13, Judge Timothy Churchwell was recused by the state and the case will now be reassigned to a new judge within the 7th District Court.
According to Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson, the prosecutor in the case, a recusal is a safeguard against any perceived bias.
Thursday’s hearing was held in response to Churchwell rejecting Traut’s plea for “lack of a sufficient factual basis.”
Traut pleaded guilty in June 2019 to a fifth-degree assault charge – one of six charges he was facing. As part of the deal, Traut testified against Larson.
In this case, Churchwell heard Traut, the defendant, plead guilty.
Larson said a new judge needs to handle the case now who hasn’t had the chance to formulate any opinion regarding the defendant’s guilt or innocence.
“It isn’t mandatory, but it’s a best practice doctrine,” Larson said after the hearing.
On July 28 of this year, the judge rejected Traut’s plea. Within the 72-page court document, it stated that during the plea hearing, Traut “agreed he intended to commit an assault and grabbed Mr. Hlinsky with that intention in mind.”
The document goes on to say that during Larson’s trial, when Traut took the stand, “he denied any ill intent toward Mr. Hlinsky at the time of the assault, characterizing his intention as simply entering the bar to pay his tab after cooling off.” The court record stated that Traut “specifically denied any assault by him.”
In the transcript from his plea hearing, however, Traut admitted he pulled Hlinsky’s arm and that he intended to do so, that the contact was not accidental and that he intended to cause bodily harm to Hlinsky.
The court record states that not only does Traut’s trial testimony fail to support his guilty plea, it counters two key elements – assault and intent.
It goes on to state that the court, at best, has a muddled record in support of a plea and oppositely, an outright denial of an assault by Traut. And that based upon the contrast, along with testimony of witnesses and evidence, it is impossible for the court to reconcile Traut’s minimized version of events with the elements necessary to support a plea of guilty to an assault charge.
The court record stated, “For these reasons, the court rejects the plea on grounds of insufficient factual basis.”
Other assailant sentenced
The other man in the case, Jacob Larson, 35, of Kensington, was sentenced on Monday, Aug. 3, in Douglas County District Court by Judge Timothy Churchwell to 90 months – 7½ years – in jail. Two-thirds of his sentence will be served in jail, while the rest will be on supervised probation. Larson received credit for time he already served, which was 207 days.