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Jesse Jaggar

Other Wisconsin exonerations
At about 4:30 a.m. on September 13, 2018, police responded to a call of a man lying on the sidewalk in front of Frank & Ernie’s, a pub at 925 Second Street in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Officer Kris Marchel found 39-year-old Jesse Jaggar lying face down in a pool of blood. When Jaggar was rolled over, Marchel saw Jaggar had a five or six inch gash in his neck.

As Marchel put pressure on Jaggar’s neck, 33-year-old Rachel Jurgella approached. She was covered in blood as well. Marchel would later testify that Jurgella said she had stabbed Jaggar after he attacked her while she was sleeping on her couch in her second floor apartment above Frank & Ernie’s.

Paramedics arrived and transported Jaggar to the airport where he was airlifted to a hospital in Marshfield, Wisconsin. He was treated for his wound and survived.

Four days later, Jaggar was charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, burglary, intimidation, and battery.

In March 2019, he went to trial in Portage County Circuit Court. Marchel testified that Jaggar was “mumbling and moaning, but I couldn’t discern what he was saying.” Marchel said that Jurgella told him that Jaggar had threatened to kill her.

Ethan Przybylski, a firefighter paramedic, testified that as he sat next to Jaggar in the ambulance leaving the scene, Jaggar “stated that he broke into the apartment and was looking for information on his ex-girlfriend and her whereabouts, and started beating up the tenant [Jurgella]…And then she was able to get a knife and cut him across the neck and a few other spots as well. He did state that it was his fault. That he wanted us to just let him die.”

Frank Minervi, a firefighter paramedic who also responded to the scene and was in the ambulance with Jaggar and Przybylski, testified that Jaggar said several times that “he wanted to die ... .He spoke about kicking the door in, roughing her up. That she was a Marine and that she was a badass.”

“He said she was defending herself and that she slit him,” Minervi said.

Jurgella testified that on the night of September 12, 2018, she came home from her job at an insurance company, had a hamburger and soda at Frank & Ernie’s, and then went up to her apartment. She said she fell asleep on her couch watching television and was awakened at 4 a.m. by Jaggar screaming at her to call Jaggar’s former girlfriend, Cecily Potter.

She said he punched her in the head four or five times as she scrambled to get her cell phone. Jurgella said he allowed her to turn on the light so she could find her phone and she recognized him because Potter was a friend of hers. She knew that Potter and Jaggar had dated in the past.

Jurgella said she dialed, and Potter’s younger brother answered. Jurgella said he told her that Potter was “out partying” and hung up the phone. “After I got off the phone, he threw my TV and my table at me,” she said. “He told me he would kill me to get Cecily’s attention and snap my fat bitch neck.”

She said that when he continued to hit her, “my phone went flying. And I noticed that my knife was on the side table. So I grabbed it and slashed his arm, and I said, ‘Get out of my house.’”

Jurgella said Jaggar grabbed her in a bear hug, she swung the knife again and cut him in the neck. In response, she said Jaggar said, “Now you’ve done it.” She said she wound up on the floor with Jaggar pressing his knee into her back. She said he grabbed her hair and tried to twist her neck. She said she rolled over and was immediately drenched in blood. “It was in my eyes, my ears, my nose,” she testified.

At that point, she said Jaggar got up and left. She said she couldn’t find her phone, so she went to the window and began screaming for help. She identified photographs of her apartment that she said showed the signs of the wreckage that occurred during the struggle.

During cross-examination, the defense noted that a prescription medication container for Darnell Harris was on the end table and suggested that Harris was living with her at that time. Jurgella said he had stayed there in the past, but not that night.

Jacob Hoffman, a bartender at the Elbow Room, several blocks away, testified that he finished his shift about 4 a.m. and walked to his apartment across the street from Frank & Ernie’s. He said he heard someone yelling for help, looked out, and saw Jaggar on the street. Hoffman said he saw Jurgella, whom he knew, and heard her saying that Jaggar had broken into her apartment.

Hailey Lehrer, a bartender at Kim’s Barrel Inn, which was about 100 feet away from Frank & Ernie’s, testified that she had served drinks to Jaggar earlier in the evening of September 12. She said he arrived about 11 p.m. and had three drinks with double shots of rum as well as three separate shots of tequila. At about 1:30 a.m., she said he intended to walk home. She also said he talked about “a bitch next door,” referring to Frank & Ernie’s, that “he couldn’t interact with.”

Potter testified that Jaggar had physically assaulted her and threatened her in the past.

Vicki Harness, a private investigator, testified for the defense that she had interviewed Darnell Harris and that he told her that he had been in Frank & Ernie’s that night and that he had a drink with Potter and two other men.

Jaggar testified that on the night of September 12, he went to Kim’s Barrel Inn to have drinks. He said he was still upset that he and Potter had broken up about three weeks earlier.

He said that he left the tavern and walked across the street to get a pack of cigarettes from his car. He said that as he walked back to Kim’s, he saw Potter sitting on the curb. She said there were two men, one of whom was Harris, with her. “They were making a lot of ruckus…to get my attention,” Jaggar said. “As I was walking back to the bar, I gave Cecily the bird. I flipped her off. I was upset…and jealous that she was with somebody else so fast.”

He said that Potter “flipped me off” in response as he walked back into Kim’s Barrel Inn.

Jaggar’s defense attorney, Daniel Linehan, asked if he told the bartender at Kim’s that if he were to go over and “interact with that bitch across the street, you are liable to go to jail tonight?”

“Yes,” Jaggar replied.

“You recognized there would be trouble?” Linehan asked.

“Yes,” Jaggar said.

He said that when he finally left, he walked outside and heard Potter call him from across the street. She was standing next to the first floor entrance leading to a staircase up to Jurgella’s second floor apartment. “She said to me, ‘You don’t want to talk now?’ So at that point, I started crossing the street,” Jaggar testified. “And then I was hit, and that’s the last thing I remember for a while.”

“The next thing I remember, I woke up face down on a small embankment of grass in front of a small section of chain link fence,” Jaggar said. He had no idea where it was. He said his hat, eyeglasses, wallet, keys, cigarettes, lighter and cell phone were missing. He said that when he woke up, he walked to the house of Benjamin Weed, a friend, where he planned to spend the night. He said the back of his head hurt, and he was dazed. He convinced Weed to go with him in search of his lost belongings.

He said they returned to the area between Frank & Ernie’s and Kim’s Barrel Inn to search for the items, using Ben’s cell phone as a flashlight. He said they separated at one point, and he walked over to where his car was parked. Weed’s girlfriend, Desiree Clinton, was at home dialing Jaggar’s phone number in the hope that he would hear it and locate it.

He said that he then heard Potter and Jurgella talking while on the balcony of Jurgella’s apartment. He said he yelled at Potter: “Good luck with your new man,” and she threw his wallet to the ground. He said she told him that if he wanted the rest of his belongings to “come and get it.”

Jaggar said he went upstairs, knocked on the door and turned the handle. He said he opened the door, but the door was slammed shut on his hand. He said he shoved the door open and entered. Harris was to his right, the other man who had been with Potter earlier was also in the room as were Potter and Jurgella. He said Harris shoved him to the floor, and then both men attacked him. He said that during the melee, Jurgella grabbed the knife and cut him.

“And then, once everybody realized how bad I was bleeding, it was like hitting a pause button,” Jaggar testified. “Everything stopped.”

He admitted that he hit Jurgella after she sliced his neck. He said he wanted to stop her from trying to cut him again. He recalled leaving the apartment and believing that he was about to die.

Jaggar said that he did not remember what happened that night until about two months later. He said that as he read the police reports of that night, his memory gradually returned.

In closing arguments, the prosecution argued that Jaggar concocted the story about being attacked to cover up his attack on Jurgella. The defense argued that Jaggar had been hit on the head as he left Kim’s Barrel Inn, that his belongings were taken by Harris and the other man, and that when Potter invited him up to Jurgella’s to get the rest of his items, he was attacked.

On March 22, 2019, the jury acquitted Jaggar of attempted murder. He was convicted of kidnapping, burglary, intimidation, and misdemeanor battery.

In June 2019, while Jaggar was awaiting sentencing, Portage County Circuit Court Judge Robert Shannon vacated the convictions and ordered a new trial. The defense had discovered that a police report that was not in evidence inadvertently had been sent back to the jury room with the trial exhibits. The report contained an allegation that Jaggar had threatened to snap Potter’s neck during an argument. The defense argued that this was improper evidence and may have influenced the jury. The judge agreed.

In September 2020, Jaggar’s defense attorney, Linehan, died. In 2021, attorney Corey Mehlos took over the defense. Prior to a retrial, Mehlos filed a motion to present testimony from a medical expert, Dr. Alexander Sommers, regarding Jaggar’s statements to police and paramedics after he was found lying on the street in a pool of blood.

The motion noted that Jaggar had been struck on the head earlier in the evening and that he had suffered such a loss of blood that the paramedics were unable to get a blood pressure reading. Sommers, according to the motion, would testify that a patient with such trauma could result in a patient suffering from amnesia as well as “confabulation,” in which a person would generate “a sincere but inaccurate recollection without intent to deceive.”

Sommers also was prepared to testify that the paramedics administered ketamine, an anesthetic with hallucinogenic effects, as well as other painkillers that could have resulted in Jaggar’s memory loss for two months after the incident. Sommers, after reviewing the medical records including Jaggar’s elevated blood-alcohol content, was prepared to testify that Jagger was in “metabolic shock.”

Circuit Court Judge Galen Bayne-Allison denied the motion.

Jaggar went to trial a second time in April 2023. For the first time, Mehlos, during cross-examination of Jurgella, noted that her testimony about the state of the apartment after the fight conflicted with photos taken by police. She had said Jaggar threw her television at her and upended a coffee table. However, the photographs showed the television sitting on its stand, apparently untouched. Similarly, during cross-examination, for the first time, Jurgella admitted that she told police that as a result of the television being tossed, the audio no longer worked. She conceded that at the time she told the responding officer that the television was damaged she had not yet turned the television on, and therefore would not have known that the audio would not have been working properly.

Similarly, for the first time, Jurgella admitted that despite her testimony that she recognized Jaggar’s face and voice when he entered the unlit apartment and woke her up, she actually had never spoken with Jaggar before, nor had she seen him. She admitted that she had poor eyesight (double astigmatism) and was not wearing her glasses.

For the first time, Mehlos also contrasted the medical records of Jaggar’s injuries with Jurgella’s testimony about how she came to cut Jaggar. The records contradicted her claim that she stabbed Jaggar while she was in a bear hug. Jurgella, who had been trained in combat through her service with the Army National Guard, testified when questioned by Mehlos that she slashed Jaggar vertically while he advanced at her directly at a 90 degree angle adjacent to her right shoulder before attempting to bear hug her. Mehlos presented medical records, including photographs of the jagged horizontal slash wound across the left side of Jaggar’s neck. The records showed that if Jaggar had been in the location Jurgella had claimed, she would have created a vertical sharp force wound oriented downwards onto Jaggar’s right shoulder or neck, instead of the slash wound in the opposite direction from left-to-right.

Mehlos also questioned Jurgella about her claim that she did not call 911 because she was unable to find her phone after the attack. Photographs taken by police showed the phone in plain sight in the apartment.

Additionally, Mehlos also presented evidence of the wound on the back of Jaggar’s head, buttressing his testimony that he had been hit from behind after leaving Kim’s Barrel Inn.

Furthermore, for the first time, Mehlos, during cross-examination, confirmed with the primary paramedic, Przybylski, that because of how loud the ambulance was and the fact that he was providing life-saving care to Jaggar at a distance as close as one foot away from his body he could not hear what Jaggar stated word-for-word. Therefore, he could not be sure whether Jaggar actually stated that he broke into Jurgella’s apartment and attacked her, causing her to act in self-defense, or whether Jaggar was explaining that he did not recall exactly what happened.

The first officer on scene, Marchel, testified that when he first found Jaggar in a pool of blood, collapsed, face-down on the sidewalk and asked him what happened, Jaggar did not respond, but was able to respond to other questions. Officer Marchel also confirmed that his body camera depicted Jurgella repeating her narrative multiple times while Jaggar was collapsed in a pool of his own blood on the sidewalk, within earshot of her, after Jaggar was unable to respond to Marchel when asked what happened and before he was loaded into the ambulance. Officer Marchel also testified that his body camera showed that law enforcement repeated Jurgella’s story within earshot of Jaggar.

Mehlos further confirmed with Officer Marchel that Jaggar’s wallet was in his pocket when he found Jaggar face down on the sidewalk outside Jurgella’s apartment, yet he did not observe Jaggar’s baseball cap, glasses, keys, or cell phone. Mehlos presented testimony from Weed and Clinton that they had searched Jaggar’s pockets after he was attacked but before he walked towards Jurgella’s apartment, and both confirmed that he did not have his hat, glasses, keys, cell phone, or wallet at that time.

Mehlos presented cell phone records and text messages verifying that the two witnesses were with Jaggar that night, and Weed walked with Jaggar in the direction of Jurgella’s apartment in search of Jaggar’s missing property. Bar surveillance video at Kim’s Barrel Inn confirmed that Jaggar had been wearing his hat and glasses and had his keys and wallet earlier in the evening before leaving the bar.

Mehlos contended that there was no way to account for why Jaggar was able to recover his wallet, but no other items, unless the property had been returned to him at or near Jurgella’s apartment.

Mehlos presented evidence that Darnell Harris had lied to law enforcement, claiming that he was not in the area where Jaggar reported being beaten up that evening, but was instead out of town. Mehlos presented evidence that Harris’s pill bottle was found by law enforcement in Jurgella’s apartment. Moreover, Harris admitted during questioning that he had not only been present the night Jaggar was attacked, but had walked to Kim’s Barrel Inn prior to the incident. Mehlos presented evidence that Harris had been staying at Jurgella’s apartment around that time, and that Harris had admitted that he had to open Jurgella’s apartment door with a butter knife because of prior damage The evidence contradicted Jurgella’s claim that damage to the door was caused by Jaggar breaking in.

On April 19, 2023, the jury acquitted Jaggar of the remaining charges of kidnapping, burglary, intimidation, and misdemeanor battery.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/15/2023
Last Updated: 9/15/2023
Most Serious Crime:Kidnapping
Additional Convictions:Other Violent Felony, Burglary/Unlawful Entry, Misdemeanor
Reported Crime Date:2018
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:39
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No