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CRIME AND COURT ROUNDUP: Federal trial begins for woman who kidnapped her baby nephew

MADISON -- A federal court trial is scheduled to begin in Madison today for Kristen Smith.  She's the woman accused of kidnapping her baby nephew near Beloit, and leaving him in a crate behind a gas station in Iowa in sub-zero temperatures.  Prosecutors said Smith kidnapped five-day-old Kayden Powell in February and started driving to her home in Colorado.  Officers arrested Smith the same day at an Interstate gas station at West Branch Iowa.  The infant was not with Smith at the time -- but he was later found freezing behind another nearby gas station.  Kayden survived despite being left in the cold for more than a full day.  Smith is charged with one federal count of kidnapping.  If convicted, she'll face up to life in prison with a mandatory minimum of 25 years.


Minnesota and Wisconsin authorities are investigating a motorcyclist who led police on a high-speed chase in Saint Paul, and later crashed in the Badger State.  It all started just after nine last night, when a Minnesota state trooper tried stopping the biker for speeding on Interstate-94 a couple miles west of downtown Saint Paul.  A chase ensued at speeds up to 120-miles-an-hour.  When the biker entered Wisconsin, Saint Croix County authorities decided not to continue the chase.  Officers were later called to a motorcycle crash -- and they discovered that the rider was the same one involved in the chase.  There was no word on the biker's possible injuries. 


The Milwaukee County sheriff is asking people to watch for criminal activity at local religious sites, in the wake of new hostilities in the Middle East.  This morning, Israeli jets made three air strikes in Gaza, after a rocket was launched at Israel.  That broke a period of relative calm in the region, as a major Muslim holiday was getting started and a cease-fire had been called.  Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke says there's a potential for protest vandalism to synagogues, mosques, and temples as a form of protest.  Clarke said residents should call law enforcement if they see any suspicious activity, especially at night or other times when nobody's around to worship.


Wisconsin Rapids Police want to hear from eyewitnesses who may have seen an elderly woman get struck-and-killed by a Canadian National freight train.  Officials said the woman was trying to cross the tracks while walking west near the city's downtown about 3:15 yesterday afternoon.  She died at the scene.  Police said the crossing had lights and safety arms, and both were working.  Also, the train's horn was functional.  The incident remains under investigation.  The woman's name was not immediately released.


Authorities say there's no evidence of foul play in the death of a missing woman in Shawano County.  Sheriff's deputies found the body of the 44-year-old Green Bay woman yesterday afternoon, north of Shawano near County Trunk Double-"H" in the town of Washington.  She was found in a wooded area near a home where she was staying.  The cause of the death remains under investigation.  The woman's name was not immediately released.


Investigators said driver was looking down toward the radio when his car rear-ended a motorcycle and killed the biker.  It happened about 3:30 yesterday morning near Ripon on Highway 44.  Both vehicles were going south.  The motorcyclist, a 35-year-old Ripon man, died at the scene.  The car driver, a 25-year-old Green Lake man, escaped injury.  Fond du Lac County sheriff's deputies continue to investigate.


A recent statewide poll gave ammunition to those seeking reforms in Wisconsin prisons.  According to the new Marquette Law School poll, only one of every five registered voters thought the prison system was doing a good or excellent job of turning inmates into productive members of society.  WISDOM, a coalition of churches, recently renewed its campaign to encourage putting more prisoners on parole -- giving early releases to elderly inmates -- and ending solitary confinement.  The Reverend Jerry Hancock, who heads a prison ministry project in Madison, tells the A-P that the poll reflects a general feeling that the system is failing.  However, he admits that those answering the poll probably don't have a strong knowledge of the state's rehabilitation efforts.  Wisconsin prisons have more than 22-thousand inmates, but the numbers of repeat offenders in prisons have generally been dropping over the last 20 years.  Corrections' officials have started to work with mental health experts and other states to give inmates in solitary confinement more rehab.  Governor Scott Walker opposes early release programs, but has said he's willing to consider more alternatives to sending certain offenders to prison.


Police in northern Wisconsin say alcohol might have played a role in the weekend drowning of a West Bend man.  Minocqua Police said 56-year-old Russell Steiner was struggling in Lake Shishebogama when rescuers were called late Saturday morning.  Family members pulled Steiner from the water when units arrived and performed C-P-R.  Steiner was taken to a Woodruff hospital where he died yesterday morning.  An investigation continues.