‘Not a choice that bodes well:’ Why Halderson request not to appear at sentencing may be costly

MADISON, Wis. — The Chandler Halderson murder case has been an unusual one from the start, and it appears it may be unusual to the end.

After Halderson’s defense team filed a motion late last week requesting he not attend his own sentencing hearing scheduled for March 17, another question has come up in a case that still has many unanswered, even after a trial that stretched over several weeks: will he be in the room when he’s sentenced to life in prison?

Local defense attorney Jessa Nicholson Goetz says this type of request from a defendant is rare, but not totally unheard of. She says there are multiple reasons why someone may not want to appear for sentencing.

“Sometimes defendants are worried about how they’re going to be perceived,” Nicholson Goetz said. “Sometimes it’s a trauma response. And that’s not necessarily very legible or sympathetic to people, but sometimes even people who have done horrible things put up psychological barriers to confronting those or facing those.”

Deputy District Attorney William Brown, who was one of two lead prosecutors in the case, wrote a letter to Judge John Hyland over the weekend requesting the motion be denied in part because he felt Halderson does not want to confront what he has done.

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“The defendant has no right to simply skip court hearings that might be uncomfortable or to avoid finally being held responsible for his behavior,” Brown wrote.

Nicholson Goetz says she wouldn’t be surprised if Halderson’s desire not to be present at his sentencing hearing — where members of his family may choose to speak before the sentence is handed down — is factored into the judge’s decision on whether to grant Halderson a possibility of parole.

“It’s not a choice that bodes well for leniency at a sentencing hearing, there are pretty limited issues at the sentencing hearing, but it’s certainly not going to impress this judge,” Nicholson Goetz said.

Halderson would also have the opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing — something he hasn’t done to this point. But Nicholson Goetz says his reluctance to appear may mean he is not planning on addressing the judge or his family during the hearing.

RELATED: Chandler Halderson found guilty on all charges in parents’ murders

“It could be that he has the right to appeal. He didn’t testify at the trial, so he hasn’t made public statements beyond what was played in trial as part of an interview. It could be that he’s maintaining his innocence and he doesn’t have anything to add and he doesn’t want to be there,” Nicholson Goetz said.

Ultimately, Halderson could be required to appear — even if he doesn’t want to.

“That’s what I think this is — the defense asking for permission to skip it when really, they’re saying, ‘Hey look, we have a defendant who’s not going to be cooperative in coming to sentencing, can we just consider it a forfeiture now?’ rather than having the courtroom dramatics on the day of sentencing when somebody’s refusing to get out of a jail cell,” Nicholson Goetz said.

Judge Hyland’s office tells News 3 Now he expects to make a ruling on the motion sometime this week, before the Mar. 17 sentencing date.

You can watch the entire sentencing hearing on Channel3000.com, Channel3000+ streaming apps and on the Channel3000 YouTube and Facebook pages. You can also get up to speed on the case on our Chandler Halderson Trial page and re-watch every day of the trial on our YouTube page.