At 2 a.m. on December 24, 1986, Tina Visgar, Suzanne Swinconos and Fredrick Mitchell arrived at the home of 34-year-old Robert Voelkli in Beloit, Wisconsin, planning to attend a party. As they entered, they encountered a man leaving the home.
Inside, they found the still-warm body of Voelkli, covered with blood. He had been shot to death.
The trio left the home without calling police, but Mitchell notified them that afternoon. Not long after, Visgar learned that police were looking for her and went to the police station. She identified 24-year-old Peter Ambler as the man who was leaving Voelkli’s home when they arrived, and Ambler was arrested and charged with murder.
Ambler and Voelkli, who worked together, were at odds because Ambler had had an affair with Voelkli’s wife when the couple was separated earlier in the year and Ambler believed she was pregnant with his child.
On January 27, 1987, Visgar, who had two charges of burglary, two charges of felony theft and two charges of misdemeanor theft pending against her, testified at a preliminary hearing and identified Ambler. The following month, the Rock County District Attorney dismissed all but one of the charges against Visgar. She pled guilty to the remaining count of misdemeanor theft and was placed on probation.
Ambler went on trial before a jury in June 1987. No murder weapon was ever found, there were no fingerprints or other physical evidence linking him to the crime. A test for gunshot residue on Ambler was inconclusive.
A woman testified that she had loaned her car to Voelkli the evening he was shot and, that prior to trial she had said a photograph of Ambler resembled a person she saw get into the car with Voelkli. In court, however, she said she was not sure if the man was Ambler.
Visgar testified that as she approached Voelkli’s house, she saw Ambler through a second floor window standing outside Voelkli’s bedroom door. She said that Ambler was wearing white pants and that she greeted him as he left the house.
She said she was surprised to see him because she believed Ambler and Voelkli were not friendly after Ambler had the affair with Voelkli’s wife.
Ambler’s attorney attempted to cross-examine Visgar about the disposition of the charges against her, but the judge sustained an objection from the prosecutor and refused to allow the questioning.
Swinconos and Mitchell testified for the defense. Both said the man who came out of the house was not wearing white pants. Swinconos said she had known Ambler for several years and that the man who left the house was not Ambler. Mitchell said he did not see the man’s face.
During deliberation, the jury requested that the testimony of Visgar and Swinconos be read back and it was. The jury convicted Ambler and he was sentenced to life in prison.
In August 1988, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin reversed the conviction, ruling that the judge had erred in forbidding the cross-examination about the disposition of Visgar’s charges, because the information was “crucial” for the jury to make a determination of Visgar’s credibility.
In March 1989, Ambler went on trial a second time. His attorneys were allowed to cross-examine Visgar about the charges against her, and the jury acquitted Ambler.
Ambler petitioned the Wisconsin Board of Claims for compensation, but was denied.
– Maurice Possley