abigail bostwick/lakeland times
Curtis Wolfe was sentenced this week to 28 years in prison and 15 years extended supervision for his involvement in the December 2017 murder of Wayne Valliere, Jr.
1/25/2020 7:30:00 AM Wolfe sentenced to 28 years in prison
for 'cowardly, heinous' murder
Abigail Bostwick Of The Lakeland Times
For what he described as a "heinous, cowardly, gangster murder," a judge handed down a 28-year prison sentence Wednesday to one of several men convicted of participating in the execution-style murder of a Lac du Flambeau man in December 2017.
Until last November, Curtis Wolfe, 28, had rejected several plea agreements in Iron County Circuit Court during the nearly two-year court proceedings in the five-defendant case filed in connection with the murder of Wayne Valliere, Jr.
Valliere Jr., 25, was beaten and shot to death before his body was drug off a dirt road and hidden behind a snow-covered berm in a remote area near the town of Mercer days before Christmas 2017.
Sentencing hearing set
Just days before Wolfe was set to stand trial, public defender Fred Bourg announced his client had agreed to a plea bargain in which the charges would be amended from first degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse to second degree reckless homicide, hiding a corpse, harboring and aiding a felon - all as party to a crime and as a habitual criminal as well as having a firearm as a convicted felon.
The sentence recommended by special state prosecutors attorney generals Chad Verbeten and Richard Dufour, and agreed defense attorney Bourg, was for 20 years initial confinement in prison followed by 10 years extended supervision.
Judge Greg Grau, formerly on the bench in Marathon County, took over the case after Iron County Judge Patrick Madden passed away last summer.
'You don't do that to a person, a friend'
In court Wednesday, Wolfe sat motionless as Valliere's family testified to their pain and loss since their son, brother and friend went missing only to be found dead.
"Sometimes I wonder, Curtis, what went through your head when you saw your childhood best friend's blood on the fresh white snow," Valliere's fiance Iris Carufel said. "Sometimes I wonder if you knew you were going to kill your childhood best friend ... then I realize, you were never friends. A real friend would not have been left behind. You would have stepped in ... because of your actions, Wayne is dead ... because five people decided (his) life didn't matter."
The holiday season is now filled with unrelenting sadness, grief and painful memories of the untimely and cruel death of Valliere, Carufel added.
Sister Amanda Valliere told the court her life has been "shattered" since her brother was killed that December morning.
"How could you have beaten him and not say you did? That's a coward to me," Valliere said. "I hold you more accountable than any of them. You knew him since childhood, you watched them shoot him over and over ... you're a coward, but also a monster."
Valliere brightened rooms and left a lasting impression on all who met him, his sister testified, calling him a "ray of sunshine."
"You sat and watched him bleed and die, and then you threw his lifeless body in a ditch. It was so cold that night ... and you, you did nothing to help my brother," Valliere said through tears. "People can blame it on drugs, but that evil is inside of you. A piece of our family died with Wayne. I will never forgive you."
Valliere's father, Wayne Valliere, Sr., also recalled Wolfe and his son as children together - growing up and staying friends all these years.
"I was proud of you guys, I saw you guys grow up. I thought these boys will be leaders of our community someday," Valliere observed on the stand.
Valliere, Sr., raised and instilled his firstborn son with the ceremonies and ways of the Lac du Flambeau Anishinaabe people, he said.
"From the moment he opened his eyes," Valliere, Sr., said. "It was the happiest day of my life. He gave me a real purpose in life, and in my community. I raised him that way. He cared about you, Curtis. If that was you about to get shot, he would have said, 'Run!' You helped those boys beat my boy. You helped them drag his body in the woods and left him. I can't forgive you, Curtis. Maybe the Great Spirit will."
Hate had never been an emotion Valliere, Sr., was familiar with until these recent years in the wake of his son's death, the father told the courtroom.
"It's changed my life. It's changed my essence," he said. "How could you do something like that to someone you grew up with? For what? Gangster stuff? ... You guys took away one of your relatives that day."
Valliere, Jr.'s mother Jenny Sharlow also gave an emotional statement to the court.
"I've waited two years to say something to you, Curtis," Sharlow observed as she cried. "I want to know why you did that to Wayne. He was your friend. You guys grew up together. You're the one I thought about the most ... he didn't know those guys, but he always knew you. You were his friend. Why didn't you help him?"
Sharlow then requested Wolfe look her in the eye.
"You knew, you knew prior," she said to him. "You could have told him to hide, to run. You don't do that to a person, a friend ... you beat up Wayne, they shot him and you dragged him into the woods and left him there ... I want to know why. I don't understand ... we are all heartbroken."
Dufour stressed the need to protect the community, noting that Wolfe has spent little of his life not in the criminal justice system having built a lengthy record of felony convictions in the Northwoods.
"Clearly, he has needs," Dufour said.
The status of the other four defendants in the case was outlined as well:
A double jury trial in August 2018 for defendants Joseph Lussier, 28, and Richard Allen, 29, ended with both of them being convicted of first degree murder. They were sentenced to life in separate prisons.
Also charged were Evan Oungst, 29, and James Lussier, 21.
Wolfe and James Lussier testified at that dual trial.
Lussier and Allen are still seeking post-conviction relief - Lussier with an attorney, Allen pro se.
James Lussier entered guilty pleas to lesser charges of felony murder/battery as parties to a crime/conspiracy and two counts of harboring aiding a felony as party to a crime. He is serving a 30-year prison sentence, 15 in incarceration, 15 on monitoring.
Oungst pled guilty to an amended charge of second degree reckless homicide as party to a crime by omission. Seven counts of harboring/aiding a felon and four counts distributing a prescription were also resolved via guilty pleas.
He will be sentenced next week. Other charges of hiding a corpse in the first case and harboring/aiding a felon and manufacture/deliver prescription drug will be dismissed and read into the record that time.
Bourg pointed out his client aided and cooperated with the state and investigators, helping them find the body and testifying in the Allen/Lussier trial.
"Once he was represented, he immediately sat down with law enforcement," Bourg said, adding that Wolfe relayed the events of the night of the murder where, "... his friend was being hurt and even killed ... he explained in great detail how he was impacted ... the fear of seeing his friend killed ... he had no proof whatsoever or foreknowledge (of the murder)."
All parties together that evening were partaking in drugs - buying or selling or using, Bourg attested.
"He was reluctant to get in the car. Curtis did not want to see anyone get hurt," Bourg said, adding that Wolfe didn't know a firearm was inside the van. "He saw his friend brutally killed ... and was ordered to get out and help them (move the body). It was done in part of fear, he didn't know who the next person to be shot might be."
Like Valliere, Wolfe was not close friends with the Lussiers or Allen, Bourg expressed.
"There was a drug connection, and that's what drove this," Bourg noted. "Where a young man was being killed for no good reason and Mr. Wolfe was a part of it."
Wolfe was accepting of his failure as a friend and person, Bourg indicated.
"He let Wayne get killed," he said. "He feels he could have done something to prevent his murder."
Bourg agreed with the state's sentencing recommendation.
Judge: 'Cold-blooded killing'
Given his chance to address the court, Wolfe declined.
"No sir, I've got nothing to say," he relayed.
Grau read a series of pages from a transcript of the Allen and Lussier jury trial in which James Lussier described, in detail, the timeline of the beating, shooting and hiding of Wayne Valliere, Jr., on Dec. 22, 2017.
"This was a cowardly, heinous killing," observed Grau when he was done reading aloud. "It was a cold-blooded, heartless, gang-style killing."
Acknowledging the impact to the victim's family, friends and community, Grau called the statements he heard that day "powerful" and further relayed he had to take into account the severity of the crime, Wolfe's likelihood to rehabilitate and public safety in his sentencing decision that morning.
"The pain, the agony, the terror that Wayne Valliere, Jr. spent the last moments of his life," Grau said. "The body (being) dragged into the woods and left in that state for nine days adds another level to the seriousness ... this was an act that trashes and defies dignity. It will continue to haunt those that loved Wayne ... those nine days his body lie in the frigid elements, alone, disagreed, frozen and left to whatever might happen upon him. Yes, Curtis Wolfe, that's how you left your best friend to spend Christmas Eve."
The judge reviewed Wolfe's childhood - in which he grew up in an "alcoholic, neglected" home where his father died in a crash when he was four, his mother when he was 12. Wolfe entered gang life not long after, it was noted in court. Grau called his work history "pitiful" and his contribution to society "scant."
Ultimately, Grau ordered Wolfe to serve 30 years in the Wisconsin State Prison System - 20 incarcerated, 10 extended supervision on the homicide charge. For hiding a corpse, he ordered another eight years - five incarcerated and three extended supervision, consecutive to the first count. For possessing a firearm as a felon, Wolfe was sentenced to five years incarceration, five years extended supervision and for aiding a felon as party to a crime, the same.
Those counts will served concurrently. Wolfe was given credit for 752 days already served.
Motive that led to the crime?
According to court reports filed in the Oungst case from a private investigator hired by Oungst's attorneys, Joseph Lussier was released from prison in August 2017 on another crime and "almost immediately absconded ... sell(ing) methamphetamine on the Lac du Flambeau reservation and used co-defendant Curtis Wolfe as his worker."
James Lussier told the private investigator he believed Valliere was used as one of Wolfe's "workers in selling meth ... middling" though Joseph Lussier never used him for that purpose, the document states.
Allen, a cousin to the Lussiers, was a consistent meth user and James said he was with his brother, Joseph, nearly every day after his release, the report continues.
Both Lussiers, Allen and Valliere were said to be Native Soldier's Gang members, but it was "... more a group that (hung) out rather than does gang activity," James Lussier told the investigator.
His brother was the "head," and the murder was not gang-related as it was not planned, the younger Lussier added.
Wolfe was said to not be a Native Soldier Gang member but a Sovereign Nation Warrior Gang member - and would sell meth on the reservation for Joseph Lussier, noting Wolfe "hustles" because "he can make something of nothing," Lussier also told the investigator.
James Lussier told the investigator that Oungst joined them at a party on Dec. 22, 2017, and later everyone went for a drive around 6 or 7 a.m.
After they pulled over on a dirt road in the woods, Valliere was pulled from the vehicle and Allen punched Wayne and Wolfe kicked him. Allen took a gun from the vehicle.
After wrestling, Lussier said he heard a "pop" and saw Valliere "spin and fall face down." Allen handed the gun to Joseph Lussier, who also shot Valliere. Allen and Joseph Lussier began to drag the body and Wolfe then went to help, the investigator was told.
Curtis allegedly said, "That's what you get for taking my shit," when they drove away.
Wolfe took the murder weapon and it was hid and later recovered by authorities at his sister's house - in basement duct work - in Lac du Flambeau.
James Lussier speculated the homicide had "nothing to do with gang activity" and "everything to do with the effects of meth." He also cited a likely cause of a meth dispute between Lussier, Curtis and Valliere - alleging that Valliere may have "used up" meth that he was selling for Wolfe, for which Wolfe owed to Joseph Lussier.
He added he thought Wolfe may have "ripped off them both and made Wayne the fall man," believing Wolfe was scared of Joseph Lussier.
Abigail Bostwick may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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