Judge lowers bond from $100,000 to $5,000 in fatal parking lot fight at Menards

Matthew Kinstler Via Wkbt

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — A judge lowered the cash bond today for a La Crosse man accused of killing a 79-year-old man in a fight in a Menards parking lot in La Crosse.

La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Elliott Levine lowered Matthew Kinstler’s bond from $100,000 to $5,000 during a hearing in which COVID-19 testing at the county jail became a side issue.

The judge said he now believes the initial bond he set was unreasonable, considering Matthew Kinstler’s indigence and the fact he is living on Social Security because of a mental health disability.

The 50-year-old Kinstler is charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Russell Paulson the day after the May 1 fight in which Kinstler accused Paulson of almost hitting his car. Paulson died the next day in the hospital.

“Mr. Kinstler is innocent until proven guilty,” Levine said during the hearing, conducted over Zoom because of COVID-19 guidelines. “He has a right to release under the Constitution. The question really becomes what’s reasonable given the situation.”

Prosecutors originally sought a $1 million bond, which Levine described Thursday “obviously far too much,” which he said is why he reduced it to $100,000 at the initial bond hearing.

Public defender Vincent Rust argued that Kinstler could stay with his sister in Holmen, isn’t a flight risk because he has remained available and would abide by any court limitations.

Rust also told the judge that his office had discovered that the La Crosse County jail is not testing inmates for COVID-19, “even when they are symptomatic. That’s significant and relevant to this case for a couple of reasons. Obviously, it’s a potential hazard for Mr. Kinstler’s health, but it also provides an unnecessary risk to the community,” Rust said.

Kinstler, who was charged on May 11, should not be held a risky situation when he can be can be cared for and monitored in the community, Rust said.

Assistant District Attorney Susan Donskey lobbied to retain the bail amount in part because of the seriousness of the charge. Also, she said, Kinstler became involved in an argument with another group when he was out on bond.

Donskey said she isn’t aware of the jail’s testing policy, but it does quarantine inmates automatically for 14 days when they are jailed. She also argued that jail the quarantining, the physical distancing and protective equipment in the jail might make it safer than out in the community.

Levine said, “I’ll just make a comment, right off the bat. I’m not sure how COVID-19 fits into bond arguments (and) all that. I understand that … individuals need to be safe not matter where they’re at. I’m not the health department. Neither are counsel. Whatever choices are being made are made by the sheriff’s department, or the sheriff and the department of health, etc., in La Crosse County.”

Acknowledging that Kinstler does not have an extensive criminal history, Levine said, “Given the information of his background, his indigency, the placement in the community, I will reduce it down to a $5,000 cash bond, which I think is more reasonable and still has the possibility for individuals to post.”

Kinstler faces up to 60 years in prison, if convicted.