CRIME AND COURT ROUNDUP: July will feature some big decisions for the Supreme Court
July will feature some big decisions from Wisconsin's highest court on issues like showing photo I-D's to vote, and restoring at least some public union bargaining. The State Supreme Court is about to rule on several major cases, including whether the Republicans' voter I-D mandate from 2011 is constitutional. A federal judge says it's not, and the state will need to win its appeals on both the state-and-federal levels before the law can be brought back. The state justices must also rule on whether the G-O-P's Act-10 public union bargaining limits apply to municipal, county, and school district employees. State employees will have to follow Act-10 regardless. The Supreme Court will also decide whether same-sex couples will lose the domestic partner registry created by Democrats in 2009. It gives those couples about 40 percent of the legal benefits that married couples get, including end-of-life decisions. The justices will also decide whether it's legal for U-W campuses to ban people from their properties. That was after the university ordered student fee protester Jeffrey Decker to stay off all 26 U-W campuses. The Supreme Court normally saves its bombshell decisions for last. As of late May, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said the justices still needed to discuss three-fourths of the cases still facing them. They imposed time limits on their deliberations so they can get everything done.
It took almost a month to identify the second of two people found dead in suitcases near Lake Geneva. Police said it was because 19-year-old Jenny Gamez was never reported missing from her home state of Oregon. Her foster mother, Lorraine Ericksen, told reporters that Gamez lost touch with her family after she moved from her home in Cottage Grove Oregon to be closer to a community college. She had won a scholarship just before she disappeared, and Ericksen said she appeared to be turning her life around after she gave up her son to his father. Former West Allis police officer Steven Zelich is charged in Walworth County with hiding the corpses of Gamez and 37-year-old Laura Simonson of Farmington Minnesota. Prosecutors say homicide charges will be sought in the places where the women were killed -- Simonson in Rochester Minnesota, and Gamez in Kenosha County. They allege that Zelich met the women online, killed them when he met them, and hung onto their remains for months before they were found on a grassy roadside June fifth. Zelich's attorney, Travis Schwantes, has said that both deaths might have been accidents -- and they might have taken place during consensual sex.
Prosecutors said a Glendale man was apparently drunk when he shot-and-killed one of his sons and wounded another -- and he claimed he was bullied by his kids and his estranged wife. That's according to a criminal complaint filed yesterday against 57-year-old Robert Washington of Glendale. He's charged in Milwaukee County with reckless homicide for the shooting death of Robert Washington the Second, and reckless injury for the wounding of 15-year-old Wesley Washington. The shootings occurred last Thursday at the family's home. According to prosecutors, the elder Washington was drinking vodka while he watched his younger son play baseball. Later, Wesley knocked over his father while playing basketball, and the father was quoted as saying "You do that again, you ain't gonna wake up." Both were shot a little while later. Glendale Police quoted the defendant as saying his younger son tried bullying him "all the time." His wife Annette filed for divorce last fall.
Authorities in northern Wisconsin hope an autopsy will provide answers, after skeletal remains were found yesterday in a wooded area near Rhinelander. Oneida County Chief Deputy Dan Hess said a person walking in the woods saw the remains and called 9-1-1 around noon yesterday. The remains were in the town of Pelican near Lake Julia. Hess said the early word that was the victim was a man, he did not appear to die recently. He said his officers have no current reports of missing persons in the area -- and anyone with information about a possible missing man is asked to call the Oneida County sheriff's office.
The state Justice Department says it's almost finished investigating the death of a mentally-ill man shot by a Milwaukee police officer in a downtown park over two months ago. 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton was killed April 30th by a 13-year police veteran in Milwaukee's Red Arrow Park. Attorneys for his family have complained about the slowness of the investigation, and a lack of communication about the progress of the probe. Lawyer Jonathan Safran said that until yesterday, he didn't hear anything from the Justice Department for five weeks. Justice spokeswoman Dana Brueck said the investigation was more complex than others because the shooting happened in the middle of the day in a busy location -- and lots of witnesses had to be interviewed. A new state law requires an outside agency to investigate deaths that involve police officers. In many cases, the Justice Department is that agency. Milwaukee Police said a 13-year veteran officer was sent to Red Arrow Park to check on Hamilton, who was lying on the ground. The officer was said to have helped Hamilton up. When the officer patted him down, a scuffle ensued -- Hamilton beat the officer with his baton -- and the officer responded by shooting the man. Witnesses heard up to ten gunshots.
Authorities now say that a Stevens Point man who drowned near Wausau last Saturday was 49-year-old Vang Yang. He was swimming in a private two-acre pond in the town of Rib Mountain when he went under. It happened during a family gathering. Marathon County sheriff's investigators said alcohol was not a factor, and there was no evidence of any alcohol at the gathering. Yang's body was found about two-and-a-half hours after relatives called for help. The medical examiner's office ruled Yang's death as a drowning.
Families of three Wisconsin victims in a 2006 traffic crash linked to General Motors' faulty ignition switches have yet to decide whether to take a company settlement. Ken Rimer says the families will meet with their lawyer tomorrow, after G-M announced a compensation fund yesterday. Eighteen-year-old Natasha Weigel and 15-year-old Amy Rademacher were killed when their car stalled, veered off a road, and slammed into trees in rural Saint Croix County in far western Wisconsin. The driver, 17-year-old Megan Phillips, suffered brain damage. G-M has admitted that one of the girls died directly from the ignition problem, because an air bag in front of her had not deployed. Yesterday, G-M said all passengers in such crashes would be eligible for compensation, after refusing to compensate back seat riders previously. The three Wisconsin families have a lawsuit pending. Rimer says he'll need to know more before deciding whether to drop the suit and accept G-M's compensation. Amounts have not been disclosed, but company settlement administrator Kenneth Feinberg said families would know the offers before having to decide whether to take them.
A bear with an apparent appetite hung around the Olive Garden restaurant in Eau Claire late yesterday. W-Q-O-W T-V had a photo of the animal on its Web site. An employee saw the bear show up around 4:45 p-m. It hung around the parking lot for about ten minutes until a car almost hit the animal while crossing a street. After that, the bear ran off. Restaurant employees called police -- but there was no immediate word on whether authorities could find the bear.