A horrific murder. Police helped a key witness. The prosecutor kept it secret.

The Witness

Jonathan Liebzeit with his mother and sister
Jonathan Liebzeit is seen about a year before he participated in the murder of Alex Schaffer in 1996 with his sister Tina and mother Sarah. Photo courtesy of the Liebzeit family

Episode 4 Transcript

Sarah Liebzeit’s son started using marijuana when he was about 12. And as a young teenager growing up in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, he got into alcohol and other drugs.

“He turned to sniffing gas,” Liebzeit recalls. “I tried to have Outagamie County commit him for sniffing gas, and was basically told it’s not an illegal substance. There was no help for him.”

When Jonathan was around 15, he and a friend were huffing gas in his dad’s garage. They were messing around with a gun owned by Jonathan’s dad, Ed.

“I don’t know if they were playing Russian Roulette or what, and his friend actually shot himself in the head, but the bullet traveled along his skull and came out the top,” Liebzeit says.

The friend survived. But that episode of mindless risk-taking was a prelude for something much, much worse. In 1996 — when he had just turned 19 — Jonathan Liebzeit took part in a homicide.

Jonathan Liebzeit in a cap and gown, holding his high school diploma
Jonathan Liebzeit participates in a graduation ceremony after receiving his GED while incarcerated in Tennessee in 2001. His mother Sarah Liebzeit says he graduated with the highest scores and his family attended the ceremony. “Wisconsin wouldn’t allow him to attend any school as he was put on a ‘shelf’ per se because of his sentence,” she says. Photo courtesy of the Liebzeit family

Liebzeit and two other young men used a bat to beat another young man, Alex Schaffer, at a park in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Then the other two men drowned Schaffer in a drainage ditch. Jonathan Liebzeit was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“It just was so horrible and unbelievable,” Sarah Liebzeit recalls. “And I knew that there was never any intention to kill Alex. They went to beat him up over silliness. I knew he (Jonathan) deserved to be punished, but not to die in prison.”

In 2019, Wisconsin Watch received a tip about Liebzeit’s case. It alleged that the prosecutor, Outagamie County District Attorney Vince Biskupic, had withheld information about a key witness — a young woman who got some help, monetary and otherwise, from the police.

That assistance was never disclosed to the defense. It’s part of a pattern seen in some other high-profile cases prosecuted by Biskupic, according to an investigation by Wisconsin Watch and WPR.

Wisconsin Watch and WPR sent registered letters with lists of questions and left phone messages and emails for Biskupic, who is now an Outagamie County Circuit judge, and his attorney. They did not respond.