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Man charged in 1985 cold case murder will undergo mental competency evaluation after trying to fire his lawyer and represent himself

Donald Maier (L) and Benny Scruggs (R)

Donald Maier, on the left, and Benny Scruggs, on the right. (Racine Correctional Institution; Screengrab/WBAY)

A Wisconsin man charged with a cold case murder dating back to 1985 will undergo a competency examination after making a series of surprise statements in court earlier this week.

Donald Wayne Maier, 60, stands accused of stabbing Benny Scruggs, 28, to death while he slept at his home on Travis Drive in Wisconsin Rapids. The defendant, long an inmate in a Badger State jail for other crimes, was charged in September 2022 after he allegedly admitted to killing Scruggs by bragging about committing the murder to other prisoners.

During a hearing on Tuesday, the defendant reportedly made a series of comments that came as news to the court and his defense team, according to Wausau, Wisconsin-based radio station WSAU.

Maier told the court that he wished to fire his attorney and move forward with the case pro se by serving as his own attorney. And while that is a right afforded to parties in a legal action, such requests are typically frowned upon by judges – particularly in criminal cases.

The defendant’s attorney, Timothy Hogan, was blindsided by the request, saying that it was the first he had heard of it, WSAU reported. After the pro se ask, Wood County Circuit Judge Todd Wolf cut the proceedings short and ordered the mental competency evaluation.

According to Rhinelander, Wisconsin-based NBC affiliate WJFW, no future hearing date has been set in the case.

Law enforcement in Wisconsin charged Maier with the murder of Scruggs after a series of imprisoned witnesses came forward to relay their tales of the defendant’s alleged braggadocio about the violence.

“I’m glad I killed that motherf—–,” Maier allegedly said during an overheard phone call, a man identified only as Witness 11 told detectives in 2017. During that call, the defendant also allegedly said he was glad that Benny Scruggs’ widow, Yvonne Scruggs, was dead.

Police in Wisconsin say the deceased man’s wife is integral to how they initially became involved in the present case – blaming Maier himself for bringing her up while he was looking at a steep prison sentence on stalking charges in hopes of shaving off some years.

“The resurrection of this cold case was initiated by the Defendant. During the last week in February and the first couple weeks of March, 2012, pleadings were filed, and hearings held regarding the Defendant’s upcoming jury trial in Wood County on ten counts of stalking jurors who had sat on his jury which, in 2006, had convicted him of two counts of threatening a judge. The Defendant knew he was looking at additional prison time,” the criminal complaint said. “During the pendency of the stalking case, the Defendant contacted the Wisconsin Rapids Police Department and asked for a meeting with the police chief to discuss the 1985 Benny Scruggs murder case.”

According to that complaint, Maier and Yvonne Scruggs had an affair before Benny Scruggs died – a fact long known to law enforcement, and a fact which Yvonne Scruggs had initially concealed from investigators while Maier freely admitted it.

While facing the stalking charges, Maier would go on to tell investigators that Yvonne Scruggs was actually the person who killed her husband and had even sought to frame him for the murder.

The criminal complaint against the defendant says that Yvonne Scruggs made several eyebrow-raising statements over the years during conversations with friends— some indicating she was responsible for the killing and others indicating that she knew who committed the crime but wouldn’t reveal what she knew.

One such interaction is described as follows (emphasis ours):

On August 20, 1987, Detective Smolarek and Detective Exner spoke to Cynthia A. Reas, now deceased, who stated that she and Yvonne had been close friends through high school. Approximately two months prior to Benny’s murder, Cindy and Yvonne were at the Wood County Courthouse for a WIC program social services function and Benny, Yvonne, and Victim 1 came into the room. Yvonne came over to Cindy, bent her face towards Cindy’s ear, spewed profanities about Benny and then stated that Benny had found out about her boyfriend, but it does not matter because she and Benny will not be together much longer. Then about two months after Benny’s murder, Yvonne called Cindy and asked her if she had heard about Benny’s murder, which Cindy had. Then Yvonne said, “everyone in town thinks I did it, what do you think?” to which Cindy replied, “Well, did you?” Yvonne did not answer.

Maier has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. He also previously withdrew a prior request for a speedy trial.

Matt Naham contributed to this report.

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