No contest pleas entered in standoff case

Town of Lena man will be sentenced Nov. 29
By: 

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com

The man charged with firing at police from his home in the town of Lena on March 11 pleaded no contest to three felony charges Friday in Oconto County Circuit Court.

Thomas S. Benser, 51, was originally charged with five counts of attempted first-degree intentional homicide, five counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, strangulation-suffocation, substantial battery, failure to comply with an officer’s attempt to take a person into custody and misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

During a hearing before Judge Michael T. Judge, Benser entered no contest pleas to two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment and one count of second-degree reckless endangerment for shots fired at sheriff’s deputies Matt Morrissey, Christopher Baribeau and Patrick Callahan. The shots were fired after the officers came to Benser’s house to check on his welfare and arrest him for an alleged domestic violence incident from the night before.

No one was injured, but the shots came close enough that the officers were sprayed with wood chips from the bullets’ impact, the criminal complaint said.

According to court documents, District Attorney Edward Burke plans to recommend that Benser be sentenced to a total of 10 years in state prison, followed by 10 years of extended supervision and five additional years of probation. One count of attempted homicide and one count of first-degree reckless endangerment would be dismissed but read into the record at sentencing; the other charges would be dismissed outright.

The plea agreement avoids a jury trial that had been scheduled to begin Oct. 17. Friday’s hearing was the final pretrial conference.

Judge scheduled the sentencing for Nov. 29 and ordered a presentence investigation. Benser remains in custody in lieu of $500,000 cash bail.