STATE CRIME AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Tougher penalties for drunk drivers to be discussed in Madison
Tougher penalties for drunk drivers will be discussed today at the State Capitol. The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on three bills proposed by Mequon Republican Jim Ott. One measure calls for a mandatory prison sentence of at least 10 years for those convicted of homicide by drunk driving. Another bill increases the minimum jail sentence from 30 days to six months for causing an injury in a drunk driving crash. The third bill would make third-and-fourth-time O-W-I felonies instead of misdemeanors. Senate Republican Alberta Darling of River Hills has proposed the identical bills in her chambers. She and Ott have the spent the last couple years pushing for more jail-and-prison time for drunk drivers. Their earlier proposals ran into criticism due to the increased cost of housing more prisoners.
Oak Creek native Justin Slaby is expected to testify today in his discrimination case against the FBI. It’s the fourth day of a trial in which the 30-year-old Slaby claims he was illegally denied the chance to become an F-B-I agent in 2011 due to his disability. The former Army Ranger was training for his fourth tour-of-duty in Iraq and Afghanistan when he lost his left hand as a faulty grenade blew up. Yesterday, F-B-I firearms instructor Nathan Williams testified that Slaby was a top student in firearms classes, but he could not handle a weapon safely enough with the prosthesis on his left hand. Williams admitted that instructors formed opinions about Slaby on the first day he arrived at the F-B-I’s training academy, before they had the chance to see what he could do. Slaby’s attorneys have been trying to make the case all week that he was unfairly prejudged. After Slaby testifies, the government is expected to make its case. The trial is being held in Alexandria Virginia, close to where the training academy is located.
A Milwaukee man was sentenced yesterday to six years in prison for beating his ex-girlfriend’s daughter to death. 27-year-old Desmond Cornelius was also told to spend seven years under extended supervision. He and the girl’s mother were both on trial when they decided to strike a plea deal, and were convicted on reduced charges. Authorities said Cornelius repeatedly beat two-year-old Adrianna Neal. She died in 2011 after getting three broken ribs, a broken hand, multiple bruises, and a perforated intestine. The girl’s mother, 26-year-old Tammy Silva, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of child neglect causing bodily harm, plus counts of intimidating a victim and a witness. She’ll be sentenced on August 12th. State and Milwaukee County child welfare officials had received a half dozen complaints of maltreatment by Adrianna’s parents. The state ruled that Cornelius repeatedly abused the girl physically, and Silva neglected her. A state agency was also investigating the alleged neglect of Adrianna’s now five-year-old sister when the death occurred. That case remains open. The sister and two brothers are now in foster care.
A relative has doubts about Sharon Wand’s dramatic recanting of her statement to police, which implicated her husband and cousin in last year’s fire in Argyle that killed four of Wand’s children. The 27-year-old Wand wrote letters to newspapers in Madison and Monroe to say that Armin and Jeremy Wand never set the fire. But after the letters were made public yesterday, her younger sister – Amy Peterson of Necedah – told the Wisconsin State Journal that Sharon is a gullible domestic violence victim whose husband Armin is controlling her from prison. Armin was sentenced to three life terms, and his brother Jeremy has asked to withdraw his recent guilty pleas in the fire last September that killed three of Armin Wand’s children in the house and an unborn baby as Sharon was fleeing. Peterson said Sharon recently visited her husband in prison to seek closure with the divorce about to become final. Instead, her sister said Armin was quote, “lovey-dovey with her” and used the same controlling techniques he used during their marriage to convince her that he was innocent. In Peterson’s words, “She wanted to believe he didn’t do it, when she knows he did.” Sharon Wand has returned to a mental health facility in Platteville after being away for a few weeks. Peterson said her sister had refused to take her medicines, and was not talking to her doctors. Meanwhile, both convicts are now trying to get their charges dropped in light of Sharon’s recanting. Attorney on all sides are not commenting.
Wisconsin Democrats Ron Kind and Mark Pocan were among a small minority of House members who rejected a compromise bill on student loan interest rates. The House voted 392-to-31 yesterday in favor of a sliding scale of interest costs, which rise as the economy gets better. The Senate passed the same measure last week. It now goes to President Obama, who expects to sign it. Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore joined all five Wisconsin Republicans in voting yes. Student loan interest automatically doubled last month to six-point-eight percent, and supporters of the new bill say this fall’s students are getting a much better deal at three-point-nine. Consumer groups say future students will pay dearly. La Crosse Democrat Kind says the bill seeks to quote, “balance our federal deficit on the backs of students.” He responded with a new bill in which profits from government student loans would go toward federal Pell grants for low-income students. The congressional package includes caps that range from eight-and-a-quarter percent for under-grads to 10-and-a-half percent for parents. The Congressional Budget Office said it would be 10 years before the rates get that high.
New charges were filed yesterday against a Hubertus man accused of killing a 19-year-old woman in Hartford, and attacking another woman in Richfield three days earlier. Daniel Bartelt was already charged in Washington County with attempted homicide for the Richfield incident, in which a woman was attacked with a knife on July 12th at the Richfield Historical Nature Park. Three new charges accuse him of strangling 19-year-old Jessie Blodgett, who was found dead at her parents’ house in Hartford on July 15th. The new counts are for first-degree intentional homicide, false imprisonment, and reckless endangerment. Bartelt and Blodgett are long-time friends who spent time together the past few months. Investigators said Bartelt denied being involved in Blodgett’s death at first – but his D-N-A was later found on the victim’s hair – and the rope and electrical tape reportedly used in the strangling. In court yesterday, a judge raised Bartelt’s bond from 150-thousand dollars to 750-thousand. His attorney also raised concerns about Bartelt’s mental competency. The judge ordered an exam, and the results will be reviewed at the next hearing in the case on September fourth.
House Democrat Ron Kind of La Crosse is the only Wisconsin member of Congress who has come out against any changes in how the government obtains Americans’ phone and e-mail records. Kind says the National Security Agency’s intelligence program has put the U-S in a much better position to prevent terrorist attacks. He tells the Gannett News Service that the current reviews every 90 days by Congress and the courts ensure that officials are not exceeding their authority. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Intelligence Director James Clapper released the court order allowing the data collection. His general counsel said analysts searched the data files less than 300 times last year. Menomonee Falls House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Wisconsin Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin plan to introduce bills this fall to end the massive data collections. Fond du Lac House Republican Tom Petri wants better safeguards on the data. House Republicans Sean Duffy of Weston and Reid Ribble of Sherwood want more transparency. Duffy says he has not been “leveled with completely” about the matter – and it quote, “gives me pause.” Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan is reserving judgment until the current congressional inquiries are finished.
A state appeals court ruled today in favor of six employees who said they should be paid for the time they put their protective clothing and other gear on-and-off. The six went to court after the Tyson Foods plant in Jefferson refused to pay for that time. The company said the time spent putting protective gear on-and-off was not indispensable to the employees’ work activities. The Fourth District Court of Appeals in Madison disagreed this morning, and said the workers should be paid for that time. The Tyson Jefferson plant mainly produces pepperoni for pizza.