Murder suspect in prison while awaiting trial

  • In US
  • 2022-11-30 10:21:00Z
  • By Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.

Nov. 30-CHIPPEWA FALLS - A Chippewa Falls man accused of killing his girlfriend then setting fire to a house on July 27 has been moved to the Dodge Correctional Institution.

Scott M. Vaningan, 58, 721 Superior St., is charged in Chippewa County Court with first-degree intentional homicide, arson, mutilation of a corpse and felony bail jumping. He is accused of killing his girlfriend, 55-year-old Lynn Smith, then setting the house on fire. He entered a not guilty plea Aug. 31

Vaningan was slated to appear in court last week, but no video arrangements were made with the prison. So, the court hearing was re-set for Jan. 30. During the hearing, Assistant District Attorney Scott Zehr said his office has turned over all discovery items, but defense attorney Erika Amundson said she was still looking into whether there was police body camera footage of the incident.

In September, Vaningan pleaded no contest in Chippewa County Court to OWI-4th offense, stemming from a March 26 arrest. Judge Steve Gibbs ordered three years in prison and three years of extended supervision, with jail credit to be determined later. He also must pay $2,109 in court costs and fines, and his driver's license was permanently revoked.

An autopsy of Smith's body showed she was dead before the fire began at the Superior Street residence, as there was no soot present in her trachea, indicating she was not breathing.

"During the autopsy, it was discovered that there were multiple circular punctures in the right side of (her) neck," the complaint reads. "These punctures appear to have been inflicted from a round, sharp object.

"One of these puncture wounds punctured the right external jugular vein," the complaint continues. "Two of these puncture wounds appear to have been caused by a downward motion of the injuring device."

Eyewitnesses told authorities that they saw a "bald, white male leaving the area of the residence on a motorcycle in the same timeframe that the fire was observed."

Smith was located within the porch of the residence, and an officer "observed that the body was burned beyond recognition, noting that there was extensive charring to (her) torso and extensive mass loss to the body." The victim's daughter was able to identify her after seeing a tattoo on the back.

Vaningan had removed an electronic monitoring device somewhere in the vicinity of Jim Falls. He was arrested July 28 at a home in Barron County, and he "appeared to be wearing the same clothing he was observed in after fleeing the scene," the report states.

Vaningan "had what appeared to be blood on his pants and scratch marks on his forearm, consistent with some sort of altercation."

Sgt. Drew Zehm noted he was informed that a box cutter with blood was also located on Vaningan.

In 1995, Vaningan was convicted of aggravated battery and sexual assault, and he spent time in prison for those convictions.

The fire caused about $125,000 worth of damage to the home. The fire extended into the attic of the residence. Fire investigators determined there were two separate origins of the fire, which indicates an arson.


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