UW Law School group seeks parole for convicted teen-age cop killer

MANITOWOC COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A man convicted of killing a Manitowoc police officer nearly two decades ago is getting another day in court.

Jason Halda and Officer Dale Tenhaken photos

Jason Halda argues he should have a chance at freedom because he was 17 when he killed Officer Dale Tenhaken.

Halda, who's now 36, has enlisted the help of a little known group of attorneys to argue his case.

"My first thought was actually, 'This isn't right,'" Larry Perronne told us.

After 18 years, Perronne, a retired Manitowoc officer and a friend of Tenhaken, can't believe he's again saying "Jason Halda" and "court hearing" in the same sentence.

"We're dealing with somebody that's convicted and sentenced, and the family felt justice was done, and the friends felt justice was done, and now somebody wants to alter that from us years later," Perronne said.

Perronne was close friends with Officer Tenhaken and among the first to render aid the night Halda shot Tenhaken after a traffic stop.

It was September 23, 1998, a little before midnight. Tenhaken pulled a car over for driving without headlights. Three teens, including Halda, were inside.

"I heard my radio go off and heard them ask for another unit," Perronne remembered. That was the last time he heard Tenhaken's voice.

Halda shot Tenhaken from behind at least three times.

"Basically, by the time he hit the ground he was gone. We did CPR," Perronne said.

There was no question of Halda's guilt during court proceedings, and trial testimony said he would have killed more police officers that night.

Halda was prosecuted quickly and sentenced to life without parole.

Tenhaken's family and friends thought they'd never see Halda again -- until Tenhaken's brother called Perronne a few months ago after hearing what he hoped was a rumor.

"He shouldn't be calling through the grapevine that a murderer of one of his family members, that hands down he thought was sent away. He shouldn't be finding out that way. It shouldn't be happening," Perronne said.

Halda is scheduled to be back in a Manitowoc courtroom on Monday for a hearing with new representation.

His lawyers are with the Legal Assistance to Institutionalized Persons (LAIP). They're not part of the better-known Innocence Project but part of the U.W. law school.

Target 2 found their work is to "offer the incarcerated a chance to fix injustices" and that they are unlikely to take cases for people older than 18 at conviction.

Halda was 17 at the time of the shooting. In January, LAIP filed an 18-page motion arguing his sentence is unconstitutional. They're asking for a new sentence or a chance at parole in 2019.

They argue life without parole violated Halda's 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment. As a 17-year-old, they say, his character wasn't well formed and he was subject to peer pressure.

They cite numerous other cases where defendants' sentences were less because the part of the brain responsible for "decision-making and criminal culpability" isn't developed at 17 years of age.

Halda's attorneys declined to talk with Target 2 about the case.

This week, prosecutors filed a response saying the law allowed Halda to be tried as an adult and his age was taken into account at that time.

When a judge begins hearing the arguments Monday, Perronne says many law enforcement officers will be there.

"I'm not going to yell. I'm not going to stamp. I'm just going to sit there and be a witness to it and watch and be seen," Perronne said.

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