Rusk County Court, Madison WI Attorney Chris Van Wagner, Univeristy of Wis School of Law Graduate, Cherie Barnard, and a 28 year old murder reported by Doug Moe, The Capital Times:
All charges against Cherie Barnard were dismissed and a 28-yeard old murder case closed.
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Doug Moe: 28 years later, murder case closed
ONE OF the most bizarre criminal cases in Wisconsin history ended with a bit of a whimper Monday, when a Rusk County judge agreed with a prosecutor's motion to drop perjury and conspiracy to commit murder charges against a UW-Madison Law School graduate named Cherie Lee Barnard.
The charges involved the murder of Robert Pfeil, 27, of rural Ladysmith, who was fatally shot in the back of the head on his farm in August 1979.
There were all kinds of Madison connections to the case beyond Barnard. Her one-time husband, Bob Rogers, who was at the very center of the case, was a former assistant district attorney in Dane County. The judge at Barnard's preliminary hearing in October 2005, Frederick A. Henderson, is a former Stoughton High School basketball player. And Barnard's attorney, who was a happy man Monday, is Madison criminal defense specialist Chris Van Wagner.
I even began to feel like a part of the case myself, ever since I wrote a lengthy 1988 magazine article that detailed the strange twists and turns of a crime that involved what a Wisconsin Justice Department investigator told me was "the most patently bizarre, absolutely incredible set of circumstances you'd ever want to see."
Decades later I continued to get a couple of phone calls a year about the case - someone with a dubious tip, or maybe a defense attorney looking for my old article because he had a client going in front of a new grand jury. Say this for the Rusk County cops and prosecutors - they never gave up.
It all started for me sometime in 1987 when a Racine man named Robert Pfeil Sr. called Madison Magazine and asked if I would see him.
"What's it about?"
"The murder of my son."
Hard to say no to that one. Mr. Pfeil came to Madison, and we talked a long time. Rather, he talked, and I listened. The gist of the story was this:
Rob Pfeil was a 27-year-old student at Mount Senario College in Ladysmith when he clashed with Bob Rogers, the young and newly elected district attorney of Rusk County. Rogers had come to Ladysmith in 1978 from Madison, where as a prosecutor he had run into trouble for trying to misdirect a case involving one of his brothers. Rogers brought his Madison girlfriend, Cherie Barnard, with him to Ladysmith, which was Rogers' hometown.
Rogers' dispute with Pfeil grew over a few months, culminating in an incident in which authorities shot a couple of Pfeil's dogs when he was out of town. Pfeil blamed Rogers and threatened him in front of witnesses. Not long after, Pfeil was found murdered. Rogers was a suspect. Department of Justice investigators interviewed him at length but never quite made a case. Sometime in 1980, Rogers and Barnard left Wisconsin for California.
At which point things got strange. First, in May 1981, Justice Department agents went to the home of a potential witness in the case, a woman named Betty Zajec. She had been telling people she'd witnessed the Pfeil murder. At the door, her husband told the agents, "She does have a story to tell, but she is dearly afraid of telling it." While they were talking, Zajec shot herself to death with a revolver.
Meanwhile, in California, Rogers and Barnard had married, but the marriage was in trouble. Barnard became involved with a health club owner named Gary Grady. In October 1984, Bob Rogers shot and killed Gary Grady, then turned the gun on himself.
With the prime suspect dead, the Pfeil case back in Wisconsin might have withered, but for the persistence of Robert Pfeil Sr. The elder Pfeil felt Rogers did not act alone in Rob's death, and he did what he could to keep the investigation active.
Still, two decades came and went. Grand juries convened but disbanded without indictments. Then, in April 2005, a stunning development: Two of Bob Rogers' brothers, Harold "John" Rogers and Dale Rogers, were charged with the murder of Robert Pfeil Jr. A fourth brother, Michael Rogers, had talked to police in return for not being charged himself. Bob Rogers had enlisted his brothers to kill Rob Pfeil. It was John Rogers who pulled the trigger.
Six months later, in October 2005, Cherie Barnard, who had a new life for herself as an attorney in California, was taken in handcuffs from her home in San Mateo and charged with lying to a grand jury and being party to the murder of Rob Pfeil. Barnard denied it.
In March 2006, John Rogers pleaded no contest to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Two months later, Dale Rogers pleaded guilty to solicitation to commit second-degree murder and was sentenced to time served.
That left Cherie Barnard. Her trial was scheduled to start next week, but Rusk County District Attorney Kathleen Pakes had a problem. Her star witness against Barnard - the trigger man, John Rogers - recently decided to appeal his own case and was claiming Fifth Amendment protection against testifying at the Barnard trial. On Monday of this week, Pakes moved to drop all charges against Barnard and the judge agreed.
After 28 years, the Pfeil case is over.
Van Wagner, Barnard's attorney, said Tuesday his client is "elated and relieved" at the sudden turn of events.
I think back two decades, and remember the elderly man who came into the office of my magazine talking about getting justice for his son. Did he? I would have bet against it, but I think we ended up with something pretty close to justice in the Pfeil case. I remember too the epigram I used for my 1988 magazine article. It was from Oscar Wilde:
The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
Heard something Moe should know? Call, write P.O. Box 8060, Madison, WI 53708, or e-mail .