A Wisconsin prosecutor downgraded the most serious charge Monday against a man accused of killing an Illinois woman in an interstate drive-by shooting, saying the lesser count reflects what he's learning about the man's troubled mental state.
Sauk County District Attorney Kevin Calkins initially charged 21-year-old Zachary Hays with first-degree intentional homicide and three counts of reckless endangerment in connection with the May 1 shooting that left Tracy Czaczkowski dead. He announced during a hearing Monday that he has changed the intentional homicide count to first-degree reckless homicide, saying that charge is more consistent with information emerging about Hays' mental state.
Calkins didn't elaborate and Hays' attorney, Jon Helland, declined to comment outside the courtroom. Hays faces a reckless homicide count in Milwaukee County as well — prosecutors there have accused him of killing his neighbor hours before he took to the road — and a psychiatrist's report in that case found Hays might be suffering from schizophrenia or another mental disorder. Hays also told the psychiatrist his problems might stem from using marijuana laced with something like PCP.
Helland entered pleas of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to all four Sauk County counts after Calkins announced the change. Judge Michael Screnock ordered Hays to undergo a mental evaluation.
Hays would have faced a mandatory life sentence if he had been convicted of first-degree intentional homicide. He still faces substantial prison time; the Sauk County and Milwaukee County reckless homicide charges each carry a maximum sentence of 60 years, and the Sauk County reckless endangerment counts are each punishable by up to 12½ years.
Hays faces five additional reckless endangerment charges in Columbia County, where prosecutors have accused him of threatening other vehicles after ambushing Czaczkowski.
If he's found mentally deficient in Sauk County, he would be committed to a mental health facility. He has entered a straight not guilty plea in Milwaukee and has yet to enter pleas in Columbia County.
According to court documents, Hays shot and killed his neighbor, Gabriel Sanchez, 42, in their West Allis apartment building on May 1. He then drove northwest with two of his brothers.
The trio was heading south on Interstate 90/94 in Sauk County when Hays allegedly opened fire on Czaczkowski and her family. They were returning to their home in Buffalo Grove, a Chicago suburb, after spending the weekend in Wisconsin Dells. Hays allegedly shot the 44-year-old Czaczkowski in the neck.
Police chased Hays through Columbia County to the Dane County line, where deputies stopped his SUV with a spike strip and shot him when he emerged with a gun.
Hays appeared in Sauk County court Monday for a preliminary hearing, the step in the legal process where a judge decides if enough evidence exists to order a trial. Hays waived his right to the hearing and Screnock bound him over for trial. Hays has waived his right to preliminary hearings in Milwaukee and Columbia counties as well.