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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Spooner sentenced to life in prison

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MILWAUKEE - A Milwaukee man convicted of murder was sentenced to life in prison today.

76-year-old John Spooner was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide last week, in the shooting death of 13-year-old Darius Simmons. Judge Jeffery Wagner also rejected the possibility of parole in the sentence. The victim’s mother, Patricia Larry, also has a wrongful death lawsuit against Spooner.

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The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say a group of public individuals have submitted their recommendations for deer implementations. Trustee project coordinator Eric Lobner with DNR says the Action Team submitted their version on Saturday. It’s based on the 49 recommendations from the deer implementation trustee, including a call for crossbow hunting seasons and a statewide ban on baiting and feeding – both need legislative approval. The next public chat on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday at noon and is open to the public on DNR’s Facebook page and website (Facebook.com/WIDNR). Lobner says anyone attending the chat should read the Action Team’s recommendations on their website (dnr.wi.gov). 

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Wisconsin’s decision to hold a wolf hunt caused six Indian tribes to push for deer hunting at night. That’s what tribal treaty rights analyst Kekek (key’-keck) Jason Stark said today, as a federal court trial opened in Madison on whether a night-time deer hunt should be allowed. Neither side presented opening arguments, as testimony began before Federal Judge Barbara Crabb. Stark was the first witness in a trial that’s expected to last all week. The D-N-R has long said that night-time deer hunting by Chippewa tribes would cause numerous safety problems. The tribes say a night hunt is only fair, since wolf hunters had the same privilege during the state’s inaugural wolf season which ran for two-and-a-half months ending last December. The Chippewa say they’ve long opposed wolf hunting, saying they believe the animal is sacred. 

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A committee that tries to get Republicans elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly raised almost twice as much as their Democratic counterparts in the first half of this year. All 99 Assembly seats will be up just over 15 months from now – and newly-filed reports show that the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee raised $223,000 from January-through-June. Democrats raised $119,000, and they spent more. That leaves the GOP Assembly group with $270,000 on hand to just $73,000 for Democrats. Special interest political action committees gave $142,000 to the Republican panel, while $59,000 went to the Democratic group. Meanwhile, the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate raised $153,000 dollars in campaign cash through June and had $124,000 on hand. A Senate Democratic panel had not filed its report by mid-day. The fund-raising period includes the time when lawmakers were considering the new state budget.

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The state’s public-private Economic Development Corporation is among those donating to a non-profit group that’s taking gifts to provide venture capital for new businesses. The WEDC has pledged $300,000 to the private Bright-Star Wisconsin Foundation. The corporation’s director, Reed Hall, says it will give philanthropists a chance to support the growth of entrepreneurs in Wisconsin. Hall calls the foundation an “innovative investment resource to leverage additional private funding dedicated to helping early-stage Wisconsin companies grow and succeed.” Bright-Star plans to ask the IRS for tax-exempt status within the next few weeks. Several Wisconsin business leaders have provided start-up money for the foundation. One of them, Tom Shannon, is running it for free for three years. 

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More types of food stamp fraud will become criminal activity, under a bill signed into law this morning by Governor Scott Walker. The trafficking of Food-Share benefits is now illegal at the state level, just like it’s been at the federal level since earlier this year. The crackdown came after numerous reports of fraud-and-abuse involving food stamp benefit cards. Among other things, the Journal Sentinel found in 2011 that Milwaukeeans were openly selling Food-Share cards on Facebook. State officials have since been monitoring social media to clamp down on that. Among other things, the new state law bans the re-sale of Food-Share benefits to get cash, guns, or illegal drugs. It’ll also be illegal to sell food that was purchased with food stamp benefits. Both houses approved the measure this spring, with dozens of Democrats joining the Republican sponsors in passing it. The measure passed the Assembly 73-24, and the Senate 28-5. Some opposing Democrats had called the crackdown “mean-spirited” because it goes after the poor. 

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Home sales in Wisconsin have gone up every month for the past two years. That’s according to the state’s Realtors Association. The number of existing houses sold by its members rose by just over three-percent in June to over 7,200 statewide. Also, Wisconsin Realtors reported selling almost 11-and-a-half percent more homes during the first six months of this year – just over 33,000 around the state, compared to 29,670 during the first half of 2012. The median sales price of the homes sold last month jumped by over 12-percent from the previous year, to almost $160,000. That’s way up from the $142,000 selling price reported for the same month a year ago. Realtors’ Board chair Renny Diedrich says it’s notable that this year’s home sales are well above the year before. That’s because in her words, “2012 was an exceptional post-recession year for housing sales.” 

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A new poll shows that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker leads the presidential contest in Iowa over Democrat Joe Biden – but he trails to Hillary Clinton. Quinnipiac University polled over 1,256 registered voters in the Hawkeye State. If Walker is the GOP nominee, he’d get 42-percent support to 39-percent for Vice President Biden. Clinton, on the other hand, is ahead of Walker 46-39 percent in a head-to-head poll with 15-percent undecided. Both results are above the poll’s margin-of-error of two-point-eight percent. The poll also shows that Clinton and New Jersey GOP Governor Chris Christie are tied in Iowa at 41-percent each. An earlier Quinnipiac national poll gave Clinton a six-point edge over Christie. Walker was not specifically listed in that national poll from earlier this month. Quinnipiac also said President Obama’s approval rating has dropped to 41-percent – the lowest of the nine states where Quinnipiac is now doing polling work.

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It’s been a few years since lawmakers tried making English the official language of Wisconsin – but at least one Republican plans to bring it up now. De Pere Representative Andre Jacque is asking his colleagues to co-sponsor a bill to be taken up in the fall session. It would require state and local governments to use only English for their written communications, with certain exceptions for public health and law enforcement. Jacque says he’s reviving the issue because there is quote, “widespread agreement that you really need to have proficiency with English to pursue the American dream.” In the 2007 session, the state Assembly approved making English the state’s official language – but the bill didn’t make it past the Senate. Back then, it was a Democrat who carried the banner. Former Assemblyman Marlin Schneider of Wisconsin Rapids feared at the time that America was becoming a divided nation because we don’t speak a common language – and he blamed “political correctness.” An effort to make English the nation’s official language died in Congress in 2006. Menomonee Falls U.S. House Republican F. James Sensenbrenner said at the time that English was quote, “the language of commerce,” and it behooved Americans who didn’t know it to learn it.

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Wisconsin could get another bout of severe weather this afternoon and evening. The National Weather Service had no watches-or-warnings out as of mid-morning. Forecasters say storms with possible large hail, damaging winds, and torrential rains will move into the eastern two-thirds of the Badger State this afternoon and tonight. The Weather Service expects the storms to arrive as early as noon in far western Wisconsin in the Hudson area, and around two in the La Crosse region. Central areas could start getting hit late this afternoon. On-and-off rains were expected all day in the far northwest. Meanwhile, power crews are still trying to restore electricity that was taken out during yesterday’s storms. We Energies reported 150 customers out at mid-morning in Metro Milwaukee. The utility said over six-thousand customers had outages last night. Wisconsin Power-and-Light had about 80 customers without power in south central areas. It appears that yesterday’s heaviest rains were along a path from La Crosse to Racine. La Crosse had around two-inches, and Racine three-and-a-half.

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An archaeological team says the remains of four people found during a road-building project south of Fort Atkinson were probably part of a 150-year-old burial ground. Workers were creating a temporary access road in a knoll along Highway 26, when they found a man’s remains buried in a coffin that was rotted a long time ago. A few more weeks of digging turned up three additional bodies. Jennifer Haas of the Great Lakes Archaeological Research Center says remains of three adults and one young adult appear to be part of a burial ground from a European-American settlement in the mid-to-late-1800’s. A lab will analyze the bones, while the archaeological group does research work over the next few weeks to further identify the remains. After that, officials will decide what to do with the burial ground – possibly relocating it. Construction work is halted in that area, but most of the four-lane Highway 26 project from Milton to Fort Atkinson continues. 

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A new restaurant is opening today in Wausau, owned by two people from Whitewater who won a Food Network contest. Sarah Smith and Tyler Sailsbery were victorious in an episode of “Food Court Wars,” which aired last night on the cable food channel. They competed against another couple at the Wausau Center mall – and they won free rent for a year in the mall’s food court. Their diner is called “Casual Joe’s.” It features comfort food from Wisconsin. Salisbery and Smith spent several days in cooking and serving competitions before winning their prize. Smith will stay in Wausau to run the eatery, after Salisbery returned to Whitewater to run another restaurant he already has there.

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Wisconsin’s up-and-down gas prices are down again – at least a little. The Wisconsin Triple-“A” said the statewide average was $3.70-point-eight this morning for a gallon of regular unleaded. That’s down four-tenths-of-a-cent from yesterday, but it was still almost six cents more than a week ago. Metro Milwaukee reports a big price drop over the past week. Milwaukee Gas Prices-Dot-Com said its average today was $3.72-point-nine – down a penny from yesterday, and six-and-a-half cents cheaper than a week ago. Growing demand and rising crude oil prices caused gas to jump dramatically since summer began. 

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An autopsy was scheduled today for a Catholic priest from suburban Milwaukee who collapsed at his church shortly before Mass yesterday. The archdiocese confirms that Father Jan Kieliszewski was found dead at Nativity of the Lord Church in Cudahy. Broadcast reports said parishioners were told about their pastor’s death when they showed up for Mass – and they were sent to a different service. The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office says foul play is not suspected. Parishioners said Kieliszewski had been at the Cudahy church for about a year, and was also leading a congregation at another nearby church. 

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A 63-year-old Wisconsin woman is embracing her new celebrity status on social media. A YouTube video shows Mary Hvizda (VIZ-dah) rocking a drum set, even spinning her drumsticks between beats. The video has over two-and-a-half million views. The video was shot at the Coalition Drum Shop in La Crosse. The man who shot the viral video says the exposure it has received is incredible. The video titled “Drummer Grandma” can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRhoHN8x_00. 

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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