Afternoon State News Briefs: Argyle man pleads guilt in arson which killed familyWisconsin News
-- An Argyle man struck a plea deal today, and was convicted of burning down his family’s house and killing four children to collect insurance money and start fresh.
DARLINGTON - An Argyle man struck a plea deal today, and was convicted of burning down his family’s house and killing four children to collect insurance money and start fresh.
33-year-old Armin Wand III pleaded guilty in Lafayette County Circuit Court to three counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, felony murder, and arson. He still faces more than three life terms in prison.
The only way he can escape that is if the judge agrees to allow a supervised release down the line for good behavior. The plea deal asked for the arson and felony murder terms to be served at the same time – and there was nothing else. Wand was supposed to go on trial a week from tomorrow for a fire last September that killed three of his sons and an unborn child. His wife Sharon was badly burned, and a two-year-old daughter was the only child to survive. Sharon Wand’s mother said her daughter was relieved that she would not have to testify in a trial. She filed for divorce from Armin in January. Meanwhile, Wand’s brother Jeremy still faces charges in the incident.
State Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) says he doesn’t like the way lower courts are temporarily holding up laws passed by the Legislature. So he’s asked his colleagues today to co-sponsor a bill to force the State Supreme Court to take up legal challenges to state laws – and to make their rulings with 150 days. Democrats are up in arms about the idea. Assembly Judiciary panel member Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie says it’s an example of how Republicans try to change the rules when things don’t go their way. And he says constitutional questions are too important to be rushed with artificial deadlines. Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison says Ellis’s bill quote, “tramples the boundary between the legislative and judicial branches of government.” Risser says the bill would eliminate court trials and contested agency cases – and it quote, “violates the judicial process altogether.” Ellis says lower courts are negating acts of the Legislature – and he says issues that affect the entire state should be heard only by the Supreme Court. The Republicans’ limits on public union bargaining passed in 2011 were thrown out by a Madison judge last fall for local government and school employees – and while that’s still being appealed, a federal court ruled in favor of the law for all employees. Ellis say the conflicting rulings cause confusion. Also, the GOP’s photo ID law for voting has only been used once since it passed in 2011. It’s been tied up in appellate courts, and voters have not shown their ID’s at five elections since last April.
Wisconsin’s education agency says it will promptly review a Stevens Point company’s challenge to the awarding of a $15-million- software contract to a Minnesota firm. Skyward of Stevens Point filed a formal appeal today to the selection of Minnesota’s Infinite Campus to run a statewide information database of all Wisconsin public and charter school students. The Department of Public Instruction received the appeal, and promised a quick decision. Skyward said the selection process was not fair or transparent – and the Stevens Point said it should get the contract or the entire process should be voided. Skyward said it found problems that allowed Infinite Campus to score better – and the costs of each company’s proposal were not evaluated correctly. The state had a former Doyle attorney observe the process, and she found no problems. And Infinite Campus said everything was fair and square. But Skyward said if it doesn’t win the contract, schools that already use Skyward’s system will have to pay more to convert to the new operation – and it wouldn’t leave Skyward with enough business to keep the company in Wisconsin. Some school districts say they should have the choice of both firms, but the governor and Legislature approved only a single vendor for the school database. DPI Superintendent Tony Evers defended the single vendor concept, saying it’s more efficient and its saves money.
A former Waupaca County man who’s said to be a possible suspect in a double-murder in 1992 has been ordered to stand trial for raping a woman two years earlier. 41-year-old Glendon Gouker waived his right to a preliminary hearing this afternoon on a new charge of first-degree sexual assault with a dangerous weapon. He’s scheduled to enter a plea to the charge on February 27th. Authorities said they recently learned that Gouker’s DNA was linked to the sexual attack of a woman at a park in Iola in 1990. Officials say he could also be connected to the slayings of 35-year-old Tim Mumbrue and 23-year-old Tanna Togstad at the woman’s home in Weyauwega. Gouker was recently extradited to Wisconsin from Oklahoma, where he had moved in 1993. Authorities say he’s awaiting trial there for the killing of a 19-year-old man, and the kidnapping and rape of the man’s girlfriend.
For killing an endangered whooping crane last April, a South Dakota man has to make $85,000 dollars restitution and will be on probation for two years. Twenty-six year old Jeff Blachford is also prohibited from hunting, fishing or trapping anywhere in the U.S. for the next two years. He had to surrender his rifle as part of the sentence handed down in a federal courtroom in South Dakota. The International Crane Foundation in Baraboo will manage the proceeds from the restitution to fund a whooping crane conservation effort.
A Madison mother says she was going to Walgreen’s at 3:30 a.m. Thursday when her daughter was killed. The one and a half year old child was in a wheelchair being used as a stroller. Mother and daughter were on the sidewalk at East Washington Avenue near Mendota Street when the wheelchair rolled down an embankment and into the street when it was hit by a van. Thirty-one year old Raya Hansen tells police she had left the wheelchair unattended for a short time while she retraced her steps looking for a baby bottle. The 53-year old McFarland man who was driving the van says he didn’t see the wheelchair, but heard a noise and realized he must have hit something. The driver was not cited.
Wisconsin would spend $6.4 billion dollars on transportation, under the two-year state budget Governor Scott Walker will ask lawmakers to approve. The Republican governor said today it includes $824-million in new money. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel said Walker would actually hold spending around its current levels – because $6.1 to $6.5 billion is spent on transportation now, depending on how the figures are counted. The paper said it’s impossible to tell if Walker’s planning an increase or a decrease – because he didn’t explain how he counted his numbers. The governor said he would not propose increases in the gas tax or registration fees. He said some of the state’s surplus could be used, along with expected revenue growth, plus bonding. Walker said bond repayments could be sped up a number of ways, including the sales of excess state property from previous highway projects. Walker said over a half-billion dollars would be devoted to repairing the Zoo Freeway interchange just west of Milwaukee at Interstates-94-and-894 and Highway 45. Walker said it would help the entire state because goods could be moved more quickly in-and-out of southeast Wisconsin. Another $236-million is planned to keep the re-building of Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge on time. And billions more would be devoted to a host of roads, bridges, airports, rail, and harbor improvements. The governor also said he would maintain funding for mass transit. And more recruits would be trained to fill vacant law enforcement jobs in the State Patrol. Walker will deliver his proposed budget to the Legislature on Wednesday.
Government watchdogs cried foul today, after learning that GOP State Assembly leaders quietly ended a four-year-old ban on campaign fund-raising while the state budget is being debated. The Wisconsin State Journal was the first to report that the Assembly Organization Committee used paper ballots – outside of a public meeting – to vote 5-3 on the rule change with all Democrats voting no. Lawmakers will still not be able to raise campaign cash in Dane County while the budget is being considered, unless members represent constituents in the county that surrounds Madison. But Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said it was like Republicans wanted to attract less attention by having the low-key paper ballot vote. McCabe said it was a vote Republicans could not have been proud of because quote, “They’re backing out of a policy of no shakedowns during the budget process.” The complete fund-raising ban during the budget process was adopted by Democrats when they ran the lower house in 2009 – and Republicans under then-Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald continued the ban two years ago.
A judge in Sheboygan says he will not let a faraway jury determine the fate of two 14-year-old boys who are facing possible adult trials for a brutal murder. Circuit Judge Timothy Van Akkeren says there’s no reason Antonio Barbeau and Nathan Paape cannot get a fair shake from residents in their home area. Both are accused of killing Barbeau’s great-grandmother, ransacking her house, and then going out to buy pizza and marijuana with the money they allegedly stole. It happened last September at the Sheboygan Falls home of 78-year-old Barbara Olson. The youngsters were scheduled to go on trial together next month, but the judge agreed to hold off jury selection until June 14th. That’s because the defense lawyers wanted more time to prepare their cases. Paape’s lawyer asked for a change of venue, saying the news coverage about the case would discourage jurors from being fair. The judge disagreed, saying the coverage was informative and did not rally people against the defendants. Paape has pleaded innocent to a homicide charges, and he faces life in prison. Barbeau has pleaded insanity. If convicted, he’d also go to prison unless a jury finds him insane – in which case, he’d get an indefinite commitment at a mental institution.
Three people killed in a snow-related traffic crash near Wausau were members of an Oklahoma family. They were identified today 34-year-old Roy Kato, his 34-year-old wife Jenny, and their 13-year-old son Joshua – all from Tecumseh Oklahoma. The State Patrol said their vehicle slid into an oncoming vehicle yesterday morning northeast of Wausau on County Trunk “K” in the Marathon County town of Maine. Another member of the Kato family, five-year-old Brook, was taken to a Wausau hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The driver of the oncoming vehicle, a 32-year-old Schofield man, was also taken to the hospital with injuries. The crash was still being investigated at last word. It happened right after the Wausau area got three-inches of snow.
Remember Teagan Marti? She’s the girl who’s finally walking again, after she fell 100-feet from a ride at Extreme World at Wisconsin Dells three years ago. Teagan is now 15 -- and she’s getting help from Charlie Sheen, of all people. The actor donated $10,000 dollars yesterday for a therapy dog to help Teagan with her rehab. Lucia Wilgus of Eau Claire got the wheels rolling on this one. She became friends with the Marti family after Teagan’s mishap – and she’s been raising funds for a therapy dog. This week, Wilgus contacted a family friend – who happens to be Sheen’s godfather – and he made a pitch to the actor. He asked for six-thousand dollars, but Sheen decided to give 10-thousand for extra costs. The dog is being trained in Fond du Lac to be Teagan’s constant companion and do tasks for her. Sheen said he likes to “pay it forward.” He doesn’t always like to talk about his charitable activities, but he spoke up about this one to encourage more people to donate. Teagan’s mother couldn’t believe Sheen’s gift. The girl will get the dog on her next birthday in September. She has not decided on a name yet, but Sheen would like it to be called “Charlie.”