March 18 – EAU CLAIRE – A Milwaukee forensic psychologist has been assigned to conduct a competency exam for the Eau Claire man accused of fatally shooting his neighbor up north in July 2016.
Eau Claire County Judge Sarah Harless appointed Christina Engen to take the exam. She is the clinical director at Behavioral Consultants in Milwaukee. Engen formerly worked for the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.
Following the exam, a competency hearing will be scheduled for Shane M. Helbrecht to determine if Helmbrecht is qualified to assist in his defense.
An Eau Claire County judge ordered in 2018 that Helmbrecht be placed on civil mental obligation for posing a danger to himself and others as a result of his mental illness.
The judge ordered the civil commitment after ruling that Helmbrecht is incompetent to assist in his defense and that he is unlikely to become competent in the future.
Helmbrecht, 51, was at the time placed on a Chapter 51 pledge, which provides legal procedures for voluntary and involuntary admission, treatment and rehabilitation of people suffering from mental illness, developmental disability, drug addiction or alcoholism.
The criminal case against Helmbrecht was subsequently suspended indefinitely to allow prosecutors to petition the court at a later date if Helmbrecht’s mental state changes.
Harless in February agreed with Eau Claire County District Attorney Peter Rindal, who filed a motion to conduct another competency review.
Helmbrecht has had nine different competency evaluations since September 2016. In six evaluations he was found unable to assist in his defense and in the other three competence evaluations.
In half of the evaluations where Helmbrecht was found to be incompetent, the evaluators believed that he would probably never become competent.
In four previous jurisdictional hearings, judges found Helmbrecht competent to assist his defense on one occasion and in the other three hearings incompetent.
Helmbrecht is charged with first degree murder in the death of Jenny Ward, 36, at her home at 105 Simon Court.
According to the criminal indictment:
Helmbrecht told police that voices in his head were terrorizing him, telling him that his neighbors were harming children.
Helmbrecht entered Ward’s home at 6:30 a.m. on July 30, 2016, and shot her twice. A coroner who performed the autopsy said one of the shots had hit her heart and the wound was beyond survival.
Helmbrecht told police he felt pressure from neighbours. He said he spoke to only two neighbours, and “everyone else seemed distant and strange to me”. He believed his neighbors thought he was a pedophile.
Ward’s husband was not home at the time of the shooting, but her 14- and 11-year-old children were in the home.
Helmbrecht’s parents told police their son served in Iraq and Afghanistan and needed medical attention because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.