STATE CRIME AND COURT ROUNDUP: Wausau man has his OWI charge dropped thanks to officers' mistake
A Wausau man had a drunk driving conviction dropped because a sheriff's officer missed a detail while gathering evidence. The state's Third District Appellate Court in Wausau dismissed a first-time O-W-I case against Eric Fischer, who's now 60. He crashed his motorcycle three years ago this month, while trying to avoid hitting turkeys at a rural intersection. Marathon County sheriff's deputy Joseph Heindel gave a breath test showing Fischer's blood alcohol level at point-zero-six -- not enough to cite the biker for his first O-W-I case. An emergency room nurse told the deputy that a hospital blood test revealed a level of point-15 -- which could have convicted Fischer had the officer obtained the name of the nurse who provided the incriminating number. Appeals Judge Mark Mangerson also said the officer needed more than a tip to establish a probable-cause to arrest Fischer. Prosecutors have 20 days to decide whether to appeal the dismissal to the State Supreme Court.
Self-help author James Arthur Ray has decided not to appeal his convictions in the deaths of a Milwaukee man and two others at a sweat-lodge ceremony Ray put on. A state appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments in the appeal next week, but Ray says it might open him up to a new trial with another guilty verdict and sentencing. Ray has completed a two-year prison term. He remains on parole until October on charges that his heated sweat lodge caused the deaths of James Shore of Milwaukee, Liz Neuman of Prior Lake Minnesota, and Kirby Brown of New York State. The deaths occurred during a spiritual healing ceremony in the fall of 2009 near Sedona New York. It was part of a weekend spiritual festival. Ray was convicted on three Arizona counts of negligent homicide. Ray's attorneys quickly appealed, claiming that prosecutors committed misconduct, and jurors received improper instructions. Ray still contends his convictions were flawed, but the state disagrees. Prosecutor Sheila Polk praised Ray's decision to stop his appeal, saying it will provide closure to the victims' families.
Seventeen-year-old criminal suspects would no longer be automatically charged as adults in Wisconsin, under a new bill in the state Legislature. State Bar president and former Madison judge Patrick Fiedler was among the bill's supporters who held a news conference yesterday. He said it would give first-time, non-violent 17-year-olds a chance at more treatment options in the juvenile justice system. Fiedler said it would also reduce repeat offenders, give non-violent youngsters a second chance, and still protect the public. Those who commit violent crimes like homicide or rape would still be charged as adults. So would repeat offenders. Supporters say around two-thousand 17-year-old adult defendants would be moved back to the juvenile system. The state Public Defender's office and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference endorse the bill. It also has bi-partisan support from lawmakers such as Door County Assembly Republican Garey Bies, a former chief sheriff's deputy -- and Assembly Democrat Fred Kessler of Milwaukee, a former judge. Efforts to put 17-year-olds back into the juvenile system have failed in recent years. G-O-P Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is open to reviewing it this time. Senate leaders and Governor Scott Walker are non-committal. Republican Attorney General J-B Van Hollen opposes the change, saying prosecutors already have discretion in charging teens -- and diversion programs are available for non-violent teen offenders. Only 10 other states automatically charge youngsters under 18 as adults. Wisconsin started doing it in the mid-1990's.
Twenty people were murdered in Milwaukee in August, the most in any month since 2005. Police recorded 29 total homicides the past two months. Almost a-third of them happened after fights and arguments. Police Chief Ed Flynn says people often bring guns to those disputes and quote, "We end up with a dead body." Domestic violence accounted for almost a quarter of Milwaukee's slayings in July and August. Almost four-of-every-five murder victims were black. All but six of the 29 victims were men, and 23 had previous arrests for various offenses. Flynn gave his report yesterday to the city's Fire-and-Police Commission. The panel also approved the chief's new policies on handling deaths in police custody. Among other things, prisoners treated at medical facilities would be sent to the Milwaukee County Jail instead of the city lock-up. That way, they'd have more access to medical care.
Wisconsin's attorney general says he's against the idea of requiring more outsiders to investigate shooting deaths committed by police officers. J-B Van Hollen calls the measure quote, "unnecessary, unworkable, and an expansion of government's already too-burdensome bureaucracy." Assembly Republican Garey Bies, a former Door County chief deputy, introduced the bill yesterday. It requires police departments to have at least two investigators from outside agencies, in determining whether officers are justified or not when they shoot someone. The state Justice Department generally provides a review for smaller police forces, while larger police agencies often investigate themselves -- something Bies says hurts public confidence in law enforcement. Van Hollen says there have been no showings of failures by those investigating officer-involved deaths.