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Across the Region Dec. 22


Wisconsin high court to take up some Doe cases

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has agreed to hear three cases stemming from a John Doe investigation of fundraising and spending by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups backing him.

The court on Tuesday accepted a legal challenge from two targets of the probe; a separate lawsuit from those two targets and another; and an action by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz to try to reinstate subpoenas that were quashed by the judge overseeing the investigation.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the court put off accepting a fourth lawsuit by a group challenging the campaign finance laws that are at the heart of the investigation.

Competency hearings set in Slender Man stabbings

A judge plans to hold competency hearings this week for two girls accused of trying to kill a classmate to please the fictional character Slender Man.

Attorneys for both girls are challenging findings from state doctors that the girls are fit to stand trial on attempted homicide charges. Waukesha County Circuit Judge Michael Bohren will hold hearings for both of them on Thursday.

According to court documents, the girls plotted for months to kill their friend and finally attacked her in May in a Waukesha park. The victim was stabbed 19 times.

One of the girls is 12. The other turned 13 in November.


Treatment center, director file counterclaim

A Mason City drug treatment center has filed a counterclaim against a former employee who was cleared of embezzlement from the facility.

In October, Tracy Hassman filed a lawsuit against Prairie Ridge Addiction Treatment Services of Mason City and its executive director, accusing them of libel and slander. Hassman, of Nora Springs, had charges of stealing more than $10,000 from the agency dismissed in March.

The Mason City Globe Gazette reported that Prairie Ridge and Director Jay Hansen have filed a counterclaim, doubling down on their accusation of embezzlement. They’re seeking at least $30,000 from Hassman, saying in their counterclaim that that’s the amount Hassman wrongly took from the facility.

Man gets 10 years in child death case

An Iowa man has been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison after taking a plea deal in the 2012 death of his ex-girlfriend’s son.

Nick Reed, 36, pleaded guilty Tuesday to possession of red phosphorous with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and entered an Alford plea to a child neglect charge. An Alford plea doesn’t admit guilt but acknowledges that prosecutors likely can prove the charges.

Charges of manufacturing methamphetamine and possessing marijuana were dropped under the plea deal, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reported.

Prosecutors originally charged Reed with first-degree murder in the death of 2-year-old Bentley Randall, but dropped the charge last year citing a lack of evidence.


Killer to remain in psychiatric ward

A Lincoln County District judge has ordered a man who killed six members of a western Nebraska family nearly 40 years ago to remain in a state psychiatric hospital.

The North Platte Telegraph says Judge Donald Rowlands ruled Wednesday that Erwin Charles Simants will stay in the Lincoln Regional Center, where he’s been since being found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity in 1979.

Prosecutors say Simants shot and killed Henry and Audrey Kellie, their son David and three of their grandchildren in 1975 at the Kellies’ Sutherland home.

Doctors have testified that Simants is no longer mentally ill and should be moved to a supervised home.

But the judge said Simants is still dangerous and would pose a threat to the public if released.

State settles lawsuit with 1 of ‘Beatrice 6’

The state of Nebraska has settled a lawsuit with one of six people wrongly convicted in a 1985 murder.

The Lincoln Journal Star reports Lancaster County District Judge Robert Otte agreed Tuesday to a stipulated settlement that will pay $300,000 to Debra Shelden.

Shelden and five others — known as the Beatrice Six — were sent to prison in connection to the death of Helen Wilson. Shelden and two others spent five to six years in prison, while three others spent nearly 20 years locked up.

DNA testing exonerated the six, and a drifter who died in prison was linked to the death.

The Beatrix Six sued for wrongful conviction, and several have been awarded money. Shelden’s case was on hold pending a ruling from the Nebraska Supreme Court.


Dalrymple appoints 2 judges

Gov. Jack Dalrymple has appointed two judges to the northeast central judicial district in North Dakota.

Dalrymple on Wednesday announced the appointments of Grand Forks attorney Lolita Romanick and Larimore attorney Donald Hager. Romanick will replace Karen Braaten, who died in October, and Hager will replace Sonja Clapp, who resigned earlier this month.

Since 1999, Romanick has worked in insurance defense, employment, personal injury, workers compensation and general litigation. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of North Dakota and graduated from the University of Idaho’s law school.

Hager has operated his own law office since 1986. He received his undergraduate degree from Mayville State University and graduated from UND’s School of Law.

Testimony ends in murder trial of Williston man

Testimony has wrapped up in the trial of a Williston man accused of killing a hobby rancher a year and a half ago.

Ryan Stensaker, 33, is on trial in Minot on murder conspiracy and other charges in the spring 2013 death of Jack Sjol, 58. Sjol’s body was found in a garbage dump, with bullet wounds in his head, face and upper left arm.

KXMC-TV reports  that the prosecution rested its case Wednesday, after a week of testimony, and the defense did not call any witnesses. The case was to go to the jury after closing arguments by attorneys on both sides.

Stensaker could face life in prison without parole if convicted.


Jury  awards $1M to families for flood damage

A jury has awarded five families a combined $1 million in a lawsuit against the state of South Dakota over flood damage caused by inadequate drainage.

KELO-TV reported the jury delivered the verdict Wednesday after a three-day trial and more than three hours of deliberations. A judge in June ruled that the 2010 flood occurred because the state didn’t have adequate drainage underneath Highway 11 in Shindler.

The jury awarded the five homeowners the full difference between the value of the properties before and after the flood, which totaled nearly $750,000. It also allotted roughly $330,000 for personal possessions the families lost.

An attorney for the state says there was no dispute over the property values. He says the jury compromised between the $500,000 the plaintiffs sought for their possessions and their actual value.

Police search for 3 men after home invasion

Rapid City police say they are searching for three men after a violent home invasion.

Police responded to the home Wednesday afternoon. They say the men forced their way into the residence and assaulted the 72-year-old homeowner. He was taken to a hospital with serious injuries that weren’t life threatening. Police haven’t released the victim’s name.

Police say the three suspects took several items and were recorded on the home’s surveillance system.

Police are asking anyone with information about the suspects to come forward.

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