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Judge keeps bail high as man accused of attempted murder of priest appears in court again

Chad Legare

TOWNER, N.D. — The trail led from Alexandria, Minn., to Minot, N.D.

In between the two cities, a priest was beaten, strangled and left unconscious in a pool of blood in a church office.

Chad Legare, 42, Alexandria, the man charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault and burglary as a result of the incident, made an appearance in Northeast District court in Towner, N.D., on Tuesday, March 13.

As Northeast District Judge Donovan Foughty judge explained each of the three charges against Legare and asked the defendant if he understood them, Legare replied, "Yes, your honor" to each of them.

Legare was represented by attorney William Hartl of Rugby.

Joshua Frey, McHenry County State's Attorney Office, is prosecuting the case.

Hartl argued for a reduction in the $250,000 cash or corporate security bond that has been in effect for Legare. Hartl told Judge Foughty that his client had "no criminal record whatsoever," and that he was "no threat to the community at large." He asked that Legare's bond be reduced to $100,000.

Frey countered that Legare "does have a criminal history in Minnesota," citing an incident in which Legare had an accusation of strangling a victim reduced to "disorderly conduct." He added that in the case being settled, it showed Legare had inflicted "serious and substantial injuries" on his victim.

Foughty noted the seriousness of the charges against Legare and only reduced his bond to $200,000, not $100,000 as requested.

Legare was transported to the hearing from the Heart of America Correctional Center in Rugby, where he has been held since his arrest in early February.

Tuesday's hearing lacked the sensation of Legare's first appearance when he told the court that the man he is accused of attacking, Father Robert Wapenski, 62, was responsible for raping his girlfriend.

In the case against Legare, law enforcement and ambulance personnel responded to the St. Francis Xavier's Church in Anamoose in north-central North Dakota near Minot at 7:45 a.m. Jan. 30. Upon arrival they found Wapenski in a bloody and dazed condition. According to investigators, Wapenski had a severe cut over his right eye, bloody lips, swollen jaw, multiple injuries to his face and computer speaker wires wrapped around his neck.

According to an affidavit filed with the court, Wapenski told first responders he had lost consciousness during the attack and was left for dead but that his assailant should have taken his pulse because he did not die. Wapenski also said he bit the left hand of the attacker, who was wearing gloves.

On the same day, shortly after the attack, Minot Police were notified that Legare may be headed to his girlfriend's residence in Minot. Police arrived at the address and observed a man outside the apartment door. The man left the area in a white Honda Accord.

Minot Police later made a traffic stop of the vehicle, which had Minnesota license plates, and identified the driver as Chad Legare. The officer who made the stop observed that Legare had a cut and swollen lip and that Legare claimed he made the trip from Alexandria to Minot via Bismarck. Surveillance video would later emerge showing Legare entering a Cenex Station on U.S. Highway 52 between Anamoose and Minot during the time he said he was traveling through Bismarck.

In the days prior to the attack, Legare had informed Minot Police that his girlfriend had been repeatedly raped by Wapenski. Wapenski has not been charged with any such crime.

"Why would he be?" said a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Fargo. "He went through a very traumatic experience. He is still recuperating."

The source of the accusation, according to Legare, was statements made by his girlfriend. One such accusation was in the form of a mobile phone text message which Legare forwarded to Minot Police.

According to the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation investigator's report, the woman stated she did tell Legare that she had been sexually assaulted but advised she would not testify to that and "what happens to her is her business and no one else's."

The woman told the BCI that she moved to North Dakota in July of 2017 to live with a man she met online but that the relationship never worked and she was trying to return to Tennessee. She said she met Legare on an online website and that they had been dating for just over a month prior to Legare's arrest.

According to the affidavit, the woman advised the BCI investigator that she did sexual favors and stated "that is how I survive." The heavily redacted affidavit states that someone provided her with "a lot of money" and a car and that she referred to that individual as a "coke head" and an alcoholic.

Legare's next court appearance, a preliminary hearing, is set for April 19 at 10:30 a.m. at the Towner courthouse.