abigail bostwick/lakeland times
Evan Oungst speaks Monday in Iron County Circuit Court while his supporters, including his parents and brother, listen.
1/30/2020 7:30:00 AM Oungst receives 22-year prison term as last of Valliere homicide defendants is sentenced
Abigail Bostwick Of The Lakeland Times
Two portraits of an Arbor Vitae man were painted in Iron County Circuit Court on Tuesday: One of a remorseful, family-focused and community-driven man; another of a drug-addled, gang member and co-conspirator to a brutal murder.
That man, Evan Oungst, 29, most recently a resident of Iron County Jail, will spend the next 22 years of his life in prison for the part he played in the killing of Wayne Valliere, Jr., 25, a man he knew for only a matter of days, according to court testimony.
The sentencing hearing - which lasted more than seven hours - was the last for the five men accused in Valliere's murder.
Valliere was killed in the days before Christmas 2017. He was last seen Dec. 21, and found New Year's Day, his body hidden and frozen in the snow off a remote road in the town of Mercer.
Oungst led police to the body after several prior, failed attempts.
The disappearance and murder
It took nearly 10 days to find Valliere from the time he was reported missing and ceased all communication with his family, friends and fiancé. In the days following, investigation would begin including the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Police, Vilas County Sheriff's Department, Wisconsin Department of Justice and eventually the Iron County Sheriff's Department as well as other agencies and departments.
Arrested in connection with the murder were Richard Allen, 29; Joseph Lussier, 28; James Lussier, 20; and Curtis Wolfe, 28, all of Lac du Flambeau. When initially approached, all men - as well as others - told varying accounts of what happened and their role in the events of the evening in question. All were charged with first degree intentional homicide as party to a crime and hiding a corpse.
Eventually, Oungst pled guilty to amended charges of second degree reckless homicide by omission, as party to a crime, in one case and seven counts of harboring/aiding a felon and four counts delivery of a prescription drug, as party to a crime, in another case.
The remaining charges of hiding a corpse, as party to a crime, in the first case and harboring/aiding a felon and manufacture/delivery of a prescription drug were dismissed and read into the record at sentencing.
Court reports note Valliere, Joseph Lussier, Allen and Oungst were at a party in Lac du Flambeau in the hours before Valliere's death. Some told authorities the men were some of the members of the Native Soldiers Gang and there were conflicts that night. Others added Valliere had been "middling" drug sales between Joseph Lussier and Wolfe, but had used a recent $300 of meth himself and hadn't paid, it was said in testimony. When it was reportedly heard Valliere was a confidential informant who could turn in gang members, Allen is said to have pulled out a 9 mm handgun - stolen just weeks earlier from a Lake Tomahawk residence - intent he was going to shoot Valliere then and there.
Instead, Joseph Lussier, Allen and Oungst, along with two females, left the party with Valliere. The women were dropped off and along the way, James Lussier and Wolfe were picked up.
The men went for a ride north, after making a stop at an Arbor Vitae gas station near during the early hours of Dec. 22. Accounts of what happened on that ride vary - Oungst is confirmed to have handed out his prescription gabepentin to all of the occupants of the van. Everyone was said to be drunk and high, court reports state.
The van stopped off Swamp Creek Road outside of Mercer, where Valliere was said to be pulled from the van after attempting to write something down. He was beaten by at least several of the parties, then shot in the face by Allen and in the back by Joseph Lussier. Several of the men moved Valliere's body, concealing it behind a berm in the woods. Wolfe reportedly said, "That's what you get for stealing my s---," before leaving the woods that morning.
Some testified Oungst relayed directions to and from the murder scene to aid them all in getting away with the crime, giving them advice to keep quiet, court records state. In the days following the murder, he also retrieved some of the clothes worn during the murder by Allen and kept them in his truck.
He further gave Allen, who had been staying at his house, a ride to Crandon to escape custody when police started closing in on suspects in Valliere's death. The two had been friends since their school years, it was noted.
Price County Judge Kevin Klein presided over the sentencing hearing which took place at the Iron County Courthouse. The courtroom was packed with Valliere and Oungst supporters, including the courthouse's overflow room. Security was posted around the courthouse and in the courtroom.
Oungst was represented by Thomas Wilmouth of Hazelhurst, Amy O'Melia of Rhinelander and Mike Steinle of Milwaukee. The prosecution of all of the cases associated with Valliere homicide has been handled by state assistant attorneys general Richard Dufour and Chad Verbeten out of Madison.
Before his conviction and plea agreement, Oungst had posted $25,000 cash bail and been on home monitoring with his parents. After he entered guilty pleas to the amended charges, he was remanded to the Iron County Jail.
Oungst is a Lakeland Union High School graduate, with a state of Wisconsin university degree. He was a licensed fishing guide and enjoyed outdoor activities such as fishing and hunting and worked for an area sports store, according to his personal letter to Kline submitted in the weeks proceeding the sentencing hearing.
Before handing down his sentence, Klein took testimony from both Valliere's and Oungst's family and friends as well as heard arguments from the prosecution and defense.
Valliere's family speaks out
Iris Carufel, Valliere's fiance, said she recognized men like Oungst - calling him a man who used "their privilege to get out of bad situations." She said his allowance to serve jail time at home was a "slap in the face."
"You got to sit with your family for Christmas (after) you murdered a man you knew nothing about," Carufel said, calling Valliere a "good man" who was kind to "everybody." "You left him to freeze ... the media painted a kind, brave picture of you ... you are a coward."
Carufel rued for the family she and Valliere would never have, the tribal traditions they would not be able to continue and the lifelong memories that would now haunt her.
"I shouldn't have been having to write an obit when we should have been sending out wedding invites," she said.
Carufel's sister, Winona Carufel, relayed Valliere had been like a second father, as Iris had been a second mother to her two daughters.
"His actions ripped through my community. It will last generations," Winona Carufel said. "But you didn't kill our spirit."
"You could have helped my brother and you did nothing," she said. "We were searching so desperately for my brother ... he was such a beautiful person inside and out. To me, this is unforgivable. You could have (spoken) earlier, but you didn't do anything ... you threw him away like a piece of garbage ... (I hope) you sit those years, because my brother can't live his."
Family friend John Holmes testified Valliere and the entire Valliere family had been "one of the most amazing families" and asked Kline not to fall for the "sales pitch" by Oungst and his attorneys.
"Wayne was my best friend," Victor Reyes said, adding the Valliere home was like that of his own after his parents passed on in his youth. "Wayne was a good man ... you're crying?" He asked Oungst, who said, "Yes." "You're crying because you got caught. You took my friend from me ... you're a coward. You took a life, that's the bottom line. You're a murderer." To the judge, he added, "Let him rot."
Family member Lynda Hagen relayed to the courtroom she herself had been raised in "privilege" and felt Oungst also was experiencing such treatment.
"You did not value my brother's life," she said of the close relationship she had with the victim. "You made no effort to save his life. You helped take it."
Those giving testimony said Oungst had given directions to and from, and possibly provided the bullets to the gun that killed Valliere. They also accused him of hiding bloody clothes after the murder and helping co-defendants get away with the crime.
Uncle Leon Valliere displayed a small birchbark canoe his nephew - Namaanakwad (Wayne's tribal name) - made for him.
"My nephew was very fearless," he said. "He didn't fear you ... he was taught to survive."
The last time Leon Valliere saw Valliere, he had told him he'd fix a piece of broken binding on that very canoe he held.
"I'll be back, I'll fix that for you, uncle," Valliere observed through being choked up at the memory. "Well, he's not coming back."
Leon Valliere relayed the heart-wrenching process of viewing the body before burial.
"I had to look at my nephew that day, the gunshots and what the animals did to him. That's my last memory of him," Valliere said, his emotions raw. "You owe me one life. You owe me, boy. You've got a big debt. Can you pay it? ... this pain doesn't end for us. It goes on forever. He wasn't perfect, but he didn't deserve that."
Wayne Valliere, Sr., said the brutal death of his son has changed him to the core. He had taught the ceremonial and cultural ways of the Ojibwe and his clan to his son since his son first opened his eyes, he told the court, and now all of that is lost.
"You took my son, I couldn't say goodbye to him," Valliere said of the closed casket. "Because you allowed him (to be) in that freezing cold weather, behind that damn berm."
Valliere, Sr. said he and his family went to that spot so his son would not have left there "alone," and sang a ceremonial song.
"I don't pray for you guys anymore," Valliere, Sr., said of once praying for those behind bars. "I deal with truth; 20 years is not enough for you ... you could have changed the outcome. You are not a victim."
Prosecution weighs in: 'Fully involved in the murder of Wayne'
Dufour observed there was no doubt the impact of this case on the community was "great," noting he himself knows what it is to lose a child to murder.
While several versions of the night of the murder, and the events leading up to it, have been relayed and covered throughout the investigation and court hearings, Dufour said two statements were likely the most reliable: Clint Eades, Jr. to Allen and Emmanuel Reyes to Joseph Lussier.
"They had absolutely nothing to gain, they asked for nothing in return, no favors," Dufour said. "Reyes said, 'That's what Wayne would do for me.'"
Details covered included who was at the party, who shot Valliere, who took the gun, including the part Oungst played.
Dufour added Oungst was a member of the Native Soldiers Gang and that some indicated he would be "moving up in rank" to take over for Joseph Lussier in jail.
"Clearly, he wanted to be with individuals to aide and abet his friends and get drugs for his lifestyle," Dufour said of the alleged gang involvement. Before the murder, Dufour said, everything began to cascade.
"While not physically involved in hiding the body, he was at least involved in hiding the body," he said. "He's giving directions, he's part of the whole conspiracy. Part of the whole plan."
The gun was flashed around the van during the drive - meaning those inside would have known a murder was about to occur, Dufour indicated.
"He's fully involved in the murder of Wayne," Dufour said of the defendant. "He leads them directly to the scene."
Dufour explained how the roads were twisty and had several dead-ends, that one must know where to go in the area, and Oungst was clearly familiar. Later, he would not easily give up the location of that body, Dufour said.
"He knew what he had to lose if Wayne Valliere, Jr., was found ... he had the same motive as Richard Allen and Joseph Lussier," Dufour told the courtroom. "He aided and abetted ... the directions, the gabapentin, his conduct immediately following, providing directions to and away from the scene, he said 'We all just need to keep quiet.' These are actions the defendant chose to take over a week. To protect the co-defendants and himself, to avoid taking responsibility of the brutal and senseless murder of Wayne Valliere, Jr. ..."
Dufour said Facebook messages further implicated Oungst as aiding Allen flee the area and removing condemning clothing. The prescription medication he provided made the victim less able to defend himself, Dufour added.
"The defendant is solely responsible for that happening," the prosecutor said.
While Oungst has no prior record, Dufour said he was "anything but a law-abiding citizen" who "just had not been caught or held responsible," citing illegal drug use at college and a traffic stop for operating while intoxicated just months before the murder that resulted in a parking ticket, Dufour said.
"It's time, your honor, that his committing crime after crime and not getting caught and getting swept under the rug (ends)," Dufour stated. "Despite having many opportunities, he chose to participate."
Taking into consideration the pre-sentence investigation, Dufour said the state was recommending a total of 50 years for Oungst, 30 incarceration and 20 on extended supervision.
Standing up for Oungst: 'He's a decent human being who made some mistakes'
Steinle began his opening statements noting his client had no "beef" with the victim nor a motive.
"He's a decent human being who made some mistakes," the Milwaukee attorney said. "He's ready to pay a significant penalty. He's ready to go to prison ... he will be well into his 60s (when it's over). That's not easy to do."
Should Oungst serve his time, Steinle felt Oungst could still be a lawful and contributing citizen, he said.
"He was drunk, he was high, he was a wannabe," Steinle observed. "Was he hanging around them? Yes. He was not a Native Soldier Gang member. That's unfair ... Judge, Evan Oungst suffers from bad judgment, not criminality ... it was a spontaneous act that night."
Oungst led law enforcement to the body and only had a difficult time at first as it was dark outside and he was "drunk and high" at the time, Steinle said.
Upon finding Valliere's body, Oungst was relieved for the Valliere family, the attorney added.
Addiction trumped sound judgment for Oungst, Steinle added. Further, Oungst had bipolar disorder and a personality disorder, he said.
"He's not violent. He doesn't have PTSD. He's not amoral. He's not psychotic," Steinle said. "... he had nothing to do with the gang ... the whole motive (of the murder) was over $300 worth of meth ... Wayne used it instead of selling it. (It was said) he was leaking, he was leaking so bad, and a snitch."
While the other defendants conspired to kill Valliere, Oungst did not, Steinle indicated.
"I truly believe this is a young man leading an unfocused life," Steinle relayed. "Sometimes we don't change until we hit rock bottom."
Steinle suggested a sentence of 24 years and noted probation is "not a light sentence."
Oungst's friend William Wallender of Wyoming told the court he has known Oungst since the third grade. They played sports together, he said.
"It hurts me to see Evan Oungst this way," he told the court. "He's my best friend. I consider him my brother ... Evan has saved my life more than once."
Also attesting to Oungst's character was friend Justin Martinovich who noted, "He was like a second family to me, like a brother to me."
"He would never want to fatally harm anyone, ever," Martinovich said. "He loves the outdoors, he loves his family ... I think I stand with his family in seeing that he has a just sentence."
Father Troy Oungst stated these friends were his son's "crew," not the co-defendants.
"He was not the perfect child. He's a Christian," Troy Oungst said through tears. "I'm proud of him ... he'll own his s---, he'll stand here and take it. I ask for equity. No one here is going to win today. We can do this forever."
Oungst cited an article in The Lakeland Times as calling unnecessary attention to his son versus a convicted sex offender on another page.
"I saw evil, I worked with evil," the past corrections worker said. "He is not one of them. He is worthy of a second chance ... he deserves some punishment ...."
Next, the defendant's mother Laurie Oungst conveyed respect and love for the Valliere family, friends and community, noting she has prayed for them and her own son.
"There is a lot of anger and hurt in this room today," Laurie Oungst said. "I can't begin to imagine ... there is a lot of love for this man, Evan Oungst ... we ask for fairness."
Oungst expresses his view: 'Ashamed of my actions'
In his statement to the court, Oungst identified himself as "cowardly."
"I can't comprehend the sorrows you've had to endure," Oungst said from his handcuffs and leg cuffs to the courtroom. "For over two years now ... I owed Wayne more. I owed you all more ... I owed the community more. I made many, many irreversible mistakes. I stood idly by ... as tensions built ... if I had done something ...."
Oungst said he failed to help when Valliere was "suddenly attacked and acknowledged his role in providing prescription drugs that night" and the "terrible consequences."
"Any chance I was given to make good ... I failed," Oungst said. "Maybe I would have been able to save you from this horrible sadness. I failed. I'm terribly sorry ... if I would have done something ... every chance I was given, I failed ... I'm so very sorry that the man you loved, I let down."
Oungst said he didn't know Valliere, but "liked what he did know." He specifically apologized "from the bottom of his heart" to Carufel, Wayne Valliere, Sr., and Wayne's mother Jenny Sharlow.
Further, Oungst spoke to his family, who he said had supported him through the last several years.
"I know I have wrongs to atone for ... I would like to apologize to my family ... and the broader community," in actions he called "immeasurable."
"I am ashamed of my actions and consider every single day what could have been," he said. "I trace all of these horrible decisions to carelessness, selfishness and cowardice. I carelessly traded my prescription drugs for marijuana. I selfishly kept quiet when I heard Joseph Lussier and Richard Allen talking bad about Wayne Valliere, Jr. at the party," Oungst's letter, which some from the area questioned its author, was noted in court again. "I selfishly did nothing in the van when I became aware that something was awry before the killing. I wonder if I could have stopped the beating had I tried to break it up. I carelessly gave directions to a van full of crazed lunatics after a murder was committed. I selfishly moved clothing for Richard Allen upon his request and gave him a ride in order to placate him, rather than doing the right thing and turning him in. For all these wrongs, I have nothing but regret and guilt. I don't expect mercy, but I pray to God for it. My carelessness, selfishness, indifference and cowardice contributed to the death of a young man, and showed lack of respect for the law."
The defense noted Oungst provided "substantial assistance" in not just the Valliere homicide against Allen, Lussier, Lussier and Wolfe, but also in the investigation and prosecution of Matthew Gollubske and Robert Gollubske - who were charged last year in connection with several explosions at an Iron County asphalt plant after years of not having enough evidence.
They reiterated Oungst voluntarily met with law enforcement before arrest to help find Valliere's body, provided evidence of the murder and information that led to the murder weapon - hidden by Wolfe, all which helped the prosecution.
Kline asked Oungst if he had a direct statement for him.
"I just ask mercy, for whatever that's worth," he responded.
Judge makes his ruling: 'These are choices'
Klein spent an hour discussing the case before announcing his sentencing decision, noting he'd taken many hours to read all the pages submitted by both defense and prosecution and weighed all the comments he'd heard that day.
"The seriousness of this, it's not just a life was taken, but the impact that it has had on the individuals, the family, the community," Klein said.
Klein acknowledged the letter Oungst had written, specifically his statements of regret over self-confessed alcohol, drugs and partying over a healthier lifestyle.
"The fact that you recognize does not lessen the seriousness," the judge said to Oungst. "You didn't beat Wayne, you didn't pull the trigger ... but you're guilty on omissions ... in no way, Mr. Oungst, are you a victim, or will you be treated as such."
Klein discussed character and rehabilitation needs, as well as the need to protect the public.
"(Some) would argue you aren't dangerous. I think you are," Klein said. "From the long past, from the character aspects we (have seen. From the things you have and have not done ... any start to change is good, but it is merely a start."
The judge also covered the need for punishment, "tempered" by other "factors" in the case, such as his cooperation.
"Rehabilitation doesn't carry the day," Klein said.
The judge relayed he saw Oungst as a kid seeking approval.
"I see that as a thread running through this," he said. "The risk and the rush. The risk-taking behavior gave you some positive feelings."
That same behavior had consequences, the judge indicated.
Post-murder, Oungst continued to help the other co-defendants leave the scene and cover the crime, Klein noted.
"Mr. Oungst was giving directions, which made things easier or better," Klein said. "(Some say) the defendant had nothing to do with the underlying crime ... you did have something to do with the underlying crime ... you made a purposeful act to commit those (crimes) ... it's important you entered pleas of guilty. The gravity of the offenses taken as a whole is high."
"I want you to understand, Mr. Oungst," continued the judge. "You made choices what to do, and what not to do. A mistake happens for no apparent reason ... what we're talking about in this situation, is choices. These are choices ... and you have to be held accountable for those choices."
Significant punishment by incarceration was to be part of Oungst's rehabilitation, Klein said.
"There will be a stark reality moving forward," he went on.
Klein added he did not see nor judge based on any racial or socioeconomic privilege nor any newspaper or radio articles as some mentioned in their testimony as possible factors to that day's sentencing.
As "significant consequences," Klein ordered Oungst to be turned over to the Wisconsin State Prison system where he will serve a total of 22 years incarcerated and 20 years on extended supervision. He also will have to maintain total sobriety and pay court costs. He will receive credit for 433 days already served.
Other defendants behind bars
Both Allen and Lussier were convicted and sentenced to life in prison following a jury trial in August 2018. Both are seeking post-conviction relief.
Late last year, after testifying against his brother and Allen, James Lussier pled guilty to being a party to conspiracy to commit first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of aiding a felon. He was sentenced to 15 years prison and 15 years extended supervision, along with another eight years of probation to be served after the first sentence.
Wolfe pled no contest to being a party to the crime of second degree reckless homicide by omission, being a party to the crime of hiding a corpse, being a felon in possession of a weapon, and being the party to a crime of harboring or aiding a felon. He received 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision.
Abigail Bostwick may be reached at email@example.com.
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