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STATE NEWS ROUNDUP: Trial to begin this week for Minnesota man accused of killing La Crosse father and son

A nine-day trial is scheduled to begin this week for a man accused of killing a photography store owner and his son in La Crosse. Barring a last-minute plea deal, jury selection begins tomorrow morning in La Crosse County for 40-year-old Jeffrey Lepsch. Prosecutors said the Dakota Minnesota man owed money in a previous felony case, and it apparently spurred him to kill 56-year-old Paul Petras and his 19-year-old son A-J last September at May's Photo in downtown La Crosse. Lepsch allegedly stole almost two dozen items from the photo shop, valued at 20-thousand dollars. He has three public defenders who have not disclosed what they might tell jurors. Lepsch is charged with two counts of first-degree intentional homicide, armed robbery by force, and firearm possession as a convicted felon. His previous felony involved the theft of 100-thousand dollars in merchandise from Ace Hardware near La Crosse. Last year, a judge ordered Lepsch to shell out 60-thousand dollars in unpaid restitution from that case. Reports said he has only paid a part of that restitution. 


A Clark County man is due in court today, for allegedly causing a drunk driving crash that killed two passengers near Stevens Point. A bond hearing is set for 22-year-old Timothy Saavedra of Loyal. Portage County authorities want prosecutors to file charges of causing deaths and injury by drunk driving. Authorities said Saavedra’s pick-up truck slammed into a group of trees around bar-time on Saturday morning. Melissa Peterson and Stephanie Eberhardt, both 21 from Wisconsin Rapids, were killed. A 21-year-old Rudolph man was extricated from the truck. He was upgraded yesterday from serious-to-fair condition at a Marshfield hospital. Also today, Portage County and State Patrol investigators hope to get information from a black box in the vehicle – like the vehicle’s speed, and how fast the brakes were applied when the truck’s air bags were pushed out. 


John Spooner will be sent to prison today, probably for the rest of his life. A 1:30 sentencing hearing is set in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, where the 76-year-old Spooner will get a mandatory life prison term for killing his 13-year-old neighbor Darius Simmons in May of last year. Judge Jeffrey Wagner could set a minimum date for a supervised release – but it would have to be at least 20 years down the road, when Spooner would be 96 if he lives that long. He was convicted last week of first-degree intentional homicide for killing Simmons over four guns that Spooner accused the teen of stealing. Spooner tried to claim he was insane at the time, which would have sent him to a mental institution if the jury had agreed. However, the jurors said Spooner knew exactly what he was doing when he shot the teen. That was after a court-appointed psychiatrist said Spooner would have also shot Simmons’ brother – but he chose not to, because it might have endangered others. 


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 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 Representative 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 House Republican Jim 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. 


We’re expected to find out today how much money Governor Scott Walker has raised for his next election that’s over 15 months away. State campaign committees have a midnight deadline to file reports with the Government Accountability Board, showing how much they’ve raised and spent in the first six months of 2013. The Republican Walker raised almost a half-million dollars in the final six months of last year. He had almost 800-thousand dollars on hand in January. Walker is mixing business with fund-raising during a trip to Colorado later this week. No Democrats have announced plans to run against Walker in next year’s governor’s contest. Recent media reports said Democratic leaders want to recruit a single candidate and avoid a divisive party primary, as Walker glides through on the G-O-P side until next November. Former Trek Bicycle executive and state commerce secretary Mary Burke is said to be seriously thinking about a Democratic bid. She has not created a campaign committee, so she does not need to file anything today. 


A former Catholic priest is among those who say the Milwaukee Archdiocese owes them money. Marvin Knighton is among the sex abuse victims and retired employees who've lined up as creditors in the church's two-and-a-half-year-old bankruptcy case. A jury found Knighton innocent of sex abuse charges -- but the church still removed him from the priesthood, claiming that two-of-the-three allegations against him had merit. Knighton wants a bankruptcy judge to award him 450-thousand dollars, when the court decides who the court must pay in settling its bankruptcy. The Archdiocese filed for Chapter-11 bankruptcy in 2011, claiming it would not otherwise have enough money to pay all the sex abuse victims who've sued the church. 


A federal court trial begins today that will decide if Chippewa Indians can go deer hunting at night in northern Wisconsin. Judge Barbara Crabb of Madison will hear a week’s worth of testimony. Crabb is the same judge who rejected a night-time deer hunt in 1989 in the ceded territory where six Chippewa tribes have special hunting-and-fishing treaty rights. At the time, Crabb said night hunting was too dangerous. Now, the tribes say it’s only fair that they be allowed to hunt deer at night, because the DNR allowed wolf hunting at night last fall. That angered the tribes, who say grey wolves are precious to their heritage. They also point to previous night-hunting allowed by the DNR to fight chronic wasting disease. The Great Lakes Indian Fish-and-Wildlife Commission had scheduled a special night-time deer hunt by tribal members from last November through early January – but they scrapped it after the state tried to hold it up. The issue went to Crabb’s court, and she turned down an injunction last December to allow the special hunt. She said the consequences of allowing it would have been quote, “perilous” without a full explanation of the state DNR’s objections. 

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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