CRIME AND COURT ROUNDUP: Madison attorney appointed to federal Judgeship
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U-S Senate voted 70-to-24 to confirm Madison attorney James Peterson for a Wisconsin federal judgeship that's been vacant for five years. Peterson will replace the late John Shabaz in a court that's based in Madison and serves roughly the western half of the state. All of yesterday's no votes came from Republicans. President Obama nominated Peterson after he was recommended by a state selection panel formed by both Wisconsin senators. Republican Ron Johnson called it a successful bi-partisan process, and Democrat Tammy Baldwin called Peterson a well-qualified jurist who will serve the state and the nation well. The judgeship has been vacant since 2009, because Obama tried four times to get former State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler to fill the post. Republicans on Capitol Hill kept casting Butler aside, noting that he lost a statewide election for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2008.
Jury deliberations are expected to begin today in the Door County trial of Brian Cooper, an Illinois man accused of killing a pregnant female friend he brought to a wedding. The 37-year-old Cooper is being tried for a second time, after his original jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict on two homicide counts. Yesterday, experts gave conflicting testimony on Cooper's blood alcohol level at the time he allegedly strangled 21-year-old Alisha Bromfield, killing her and her unborn baby. A defense witness said Cooper may have a blood alcohol content of point-32 -- but a state Crime Lab analyst said it was more like point-16. In his original trial, the defense claimed that Cooper was too drunk to have any intent to kill Bromfield. That led Wisconsin's governor and Legislature to end "voluntarily intoxication" as a legitimate defense in homicide cases in the future. After testimony ended yesterday, prosecutors asked that the jury not be allowed to consider a lesser charge of reckless homicide -- which would take away the possibility of a life prison term. A hearing on the matter will be this morning. Both sides will then make their closing arguments before the case goes to the jury.
The defense will start making its case this morning in the trial of Ashley Baumann, a Merrill woman accused of killing two friends in a high-speed drunk driving crash. The prosecution rested its case yesterday in Lincoln County Circuit Court. The state brought in more witnesses to refute the defense theory that the lone survivor of the crash took the wheel at the last minute and caused the mishap. Crime Lab analyst Jennifer Honkanen said hair embedded in the driver's door had Baumann's D-N-A. State Patrol accident reconstruction expert Thomas Erdmann refuted a possibility that Baumann's hair could have gotten there by high winds from a nearby medical helicopter. Authorities said the 26-year-old Baumann was driving at almost 100-miles-an-hour when her van rolled into a field in June of 2012, killing passengers Jessica Hartwig and Misty Glisch. The defendant had a blood alcohol level almost twice the legal limit five hours after the crash. Crime Lab analyst Molly Ross said it was likely up point-29 at the time of the mishap, which would have been three-and-a-half times the legal limit of point-zero-eight.
Prosecutors have again asked a federal appeals court to keep alive the John Doe probe into the G-O-P's recall election campaigns involving Governor Scott Walker among others. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that the probe should continue. But Milwaukee District Judge Rudolph Randa shut it down yesterday for the second time this week. This time, Randa said an appeal from prosecutors earlier in the case was frivolous. The judge said prosecutors had no business claiming they were immune from being sued. The John Doe probe has been looking into alleged illegal coordination between outside groups and Republican candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections -- including the governor. Democrats have used the case to slam Walker as he runs for re-election this fall. One of the main targets of the John Doe, the Wisconsin Club for Growth, filed the original lawsuit. It said the investigation violated its free speech rights -- and Randa agreed on Tuesday. Randall Crocker, an attorney for the prosecutors, disagreed that his side's claim of immunity was frivolous. Crocker said it will be up to a higher court to decide that. Meanwhile, the Club for Growth's attorney plans to get depositions in the case soon. David Rivkin said prosecutors and perhaps some politicians might have to provide sworn testimony.
A Wisconsin appeals court has thrown out a drug-dealing conviction against a Michigan man, saying police improperly stopped a car where the evidence was found. An East Troy officer stopped 44-year-old Richard Houghton Junior in 2012, because he didn't have a front license plate -- and an air freshener and a G-P-S unit obstructed views through his windshield. During the traffic stop, the officer found marijuana and a scale -- and Houghton was charged with a felony count of possessing pot with the intent to deliver. In Walworth County Circuit Court, Houghton argued that the marijuana evidence was obtained illegally because the traffic stop was improper -- and it was okay not to have a front license plate, because his home state of Michigan doesn't require one. Circuit Judge John Race said the traffic stop was justified because the officer shouldn't have to know which states don't require front plates. Houghton pleaded guilty and then appealed. State prosecutors told the Second District Appellate court that the officer was wrong to stop him because of the license plate -- but prosecutors still claimed the air freshener and the G-P-S unit illegally caused obstructions to the driver. The appellate judges rejected those arguments this week.