The man convicted of a 2009 Sawyer County murder described by a law enforcement official as a Satanic “thrill killing” lost a second appeal in the case.
Christopher Roalson, 32, was convicted in 2012 of first-degree intentional homicide and burglary with the use of a dangerous weapon in the death of Irena Roszak in Radisson. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
On his latest appeal of a circuit court order denying without a hearing his motion for post-conviction relief, Roalson alleges he received ineffective assistance from both his trial and appellate counsel.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, ruled unanimously on Tuesday, June 5, Roalson’s motion did not contain sufficient facts to warrant an evidentiary hearing on his assertion that the ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims he now raises were clearly stronger than the challenges his appellate counsel actually pursued on direct appeal.
“Accordingly, we conclude Roalson has not demonstrated a sufficient reason for failing to raise those claims on direct appeal, and he is therefore procedurally barred from raising them now,” the decision states.
Roalson challenged his trial attorney’s conduct in failing to move for a mistrial due to pretrial destruction of evidence that might have helped his case. Roalson also challenged his trial attorney’s failure to object to the inclusion of a party-to-the-crime jury instruction, and her failure to object to the prosecutor’s closing statements. He argues it was an error for the circuit court not to hold an evidentiary hearing on these issues.
The decision states Roalson merely presents a summary of what occurred in his prior appeal; he appears to reason that his present claims are clearly stronger merely because he lost the prior appeal.
“This is insufficient; he must show that appellate counsel’s failure to raise the asserted issues fell below an objective standard of reasonableness,” the decision states. “We presume that appellate counsel acted reasonably, and it is incumbent upon the defendant to overcome that presumption by presenting facts in a who, what, where, when, why and how format. Both Roalson’s appellate brief and his motion fail in this regard.”
The decision also states because Roalson has not alleged sufficient facts to show that his present ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims are clearly stronger than the claims his appellate counsel actually raised, he has not demonstrated a sufficient reason for failing to raise those matters in his direct appeal. As a result, he is barred from now raising those issues. Because his arguments are procedurally barred, the circuit court properly denied Roalson’s motion without holding an evidentiary hearing.
Roalson argued in a reply brief that, in responding to his motion in the circuit court, the State conceded that a sufficient reason existed to avoid application of the procedural bar. To the contrary, the State’s only concession was a necessary and general one on a matter of that ineffective assistance of appellate counsel can be a sufficient reason for a defendant’s failure to raise an issue on appeal.
“However, the State did precisely the opposite of conceding that issue; it argued that Roalson’s motion had not sufficiently alleged ineffective assistance of appellate counsel with respect to his prior appeal. There is no reasonable construction of the State’s response that would permit a conclusion it has conceded the ‘sufficient reason’ issue,” the appeals court ruled.
Roalson’s accomplice, Austin Davis, who was 15-years-old at the time of the murder, pleaded guilty to second-degree intentional homicide as party to a crime. Davis, who was originally sentenced in 2010 to 25 years in prison and 15 years extended supervision, pleaded against Roalson. He was re-sentenced two years later to 15 years prison — 8 years confinement followed by 7 years on extended supervision — after filing a motion for post-conviction relief requesting a new sentencing hearing before a new judge
According to Davis’ testimony at trial: While Roalson was hanging out at Davis’s house, he asked Davis “if [he] wanted to kill somebody.” Roalson took Davis to the apartment where he had been living, and gathered some black clothes. Roalson and Davis each put on a black t-shirt, black shorts, black pants, and black socks, which they wore over their shoes. Roalson said the socks “would make it quieter.” Then, Roalson went to the kitchen and grabbed two knives, handing one to Davis. The knives were about one foot long; Roalson took the wooden-handled knife and gave Davis the black-handled one.
Using the knife he brought, Roalson cut a screen from at least one window to get inside the house. Then, Roalson smashed a window with the butt of his knife and cut the curtain on the other side of the window. Roalson, followed by Davis, climbed into the house’s mudroom through the broken window. To get into the main part of the house, Roalson used his knife to “pop a latch that was across the door.”
In the kitchen, Roalson told Davis to put on a pair of rubber gloves so he wouldn’t leave his fingerprints on anything. Davis started looking for things to steal. Then, he heard Roalson yelling. He couldn’t remember exactly what Roalson was saying, “but he was talking about Satan and God’s not here today, stuff like that. I don’t know his exact words.” Then, Davis heard a woman scream. Next, Roalson came out of the bedroom and walked towards Davis. Davis saw that Roalson’s wood-handled knife was bloody and bent. Roalson grabbed the black-handled knife in Davis’s hand and a stool from the kitchen. Thus armed, Roalson returned to the bedroom. Davis heard something break and the woman continued to scream. Roalson continued to talk about Satan and God.
Next, Roalson ran from the room towards an exit door. He opened the solid door and kicked out the screen door. Both Roalson and Davis left the residence. As they fled the scene, Roalson told Davis “he stabbed her a bunch of times and broke the chair over her.” Roalson had both knives, but he returned the black-handled knife to Davis. Roalson told Roszak she “would have been saved if God was here. He said he was Satan’s son.”
They returned to the apartment they had gotten the black clothes from, washed the knives and hid them, and changed their clothes back to what they had been wearing originally. Davis noted that Roalson’s demeanor was “happy,” “[s]miling and laughing.”
Another witness provided similar testimony, stating: Roalson told her he and a friend got all dressed in black and went to murder a Radisson couple but were scared away by a motion detector light. They decided to rob from a different woman instead. They got into Roszak’s home by breaking a window. The woman caught them, so Roalson “took a chair and he hit her and he hit her and he hit her.” She prayed for her life; Roalson “told her that God was not in that house tonight.” In addition to hitting her, “[h]e said that he stabbed her and he stabbed her and he stabbed her and he stabbed her.” While stabbing her, he said “hail, Satan.” Roalson told Walsczak that if he got away with killing the woman, he would kill somebody else.
An investigation revealed Roszak was murdered in her bed, and received approximately 15 stab wounds to various parts of her body. One stab wound penetrated her heart and appeared to be the cause of death, according to the sheriff’s department.
“The murder appears to be strictly a “thrill killing” with satanic overtones. The pair had set out to commit murder,” according to a sheriff’s department statement at the time.
In his first appeal of the conviction, Roalson argued his constitutional confrontation rights were violated when the state failed to produce the DNA analyst who first analyzed the evidence, and instead had an analyst who reviewed the original analysis testifying at trial.
DNA analyst Ryan Gajewski of the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory conducted DNA analysis on items from the murder scene in 2009. Gajewski, who was employed elsewhere and located in Afghanistan, was not available at the time of trial, had retired. Thus, over Roalson’s objection, the trial court allowed the State to introduce the DNA evidence via analyst Carly Leider, who did a “complete technical review” of Gajewski’s work. Her conclusions matched Gajewski’s.
The crux of the appeal was that, “the testifying expert did not do her own analysis of the knives” and “thus, defense counsel could not examine to determine the original analyst’s competence, honesty or even if he had simply made mistakes writing his methods and data down.”
In 2014, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that, because the analyst who testified at trial had reached her own opinions and was not a mere conduit for the original analyst’s opinions, Roalson’s constitutional confrontation rights were not violated.
In a response, the State asserted Roalson was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing because his motion had not presented sufficient facts to demonstrate he was entitled to relief. The State conceded ineffective assistance of appellate counsel can be a sufficient reason for failing to raise an issue, but it argued Roalson had failed to substantiate his specific claim in that regard. The State further argued Roalson had made the mistake of focusing on his trial attorney’s conduct without also showing that his appellate attorney had ignored issues that were both “obvious and very strong” and that his appellate attorney’s failure to raise them “cannot be explained or justified.” In all, the State argued Roalson had failed to allege facts showing that Roalson’s present arguments were “clearly stronger” than the arguments his appellate attorney had raised.
The court concluded neither Roalson’s trial counsel nor his appellate counsel was arguably ineffective for failing to raise the matters Roalson suggested.
Roalson is an inmate at Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun. Davis was released on extended supervision on April 11, 2017.