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Across the Region: Supreme Court won’t restart probe of Walker recall campaign

WISCONSIN

Supreme Court won’t restart probe of Walker recall campaign

The Wisconsin Supreme Court refused Wednesday to reconsider its decision to end the “John Doe” investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign.

The state Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee prosecutors launched the investigation in 2012, to look into whether Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups on issue ads. But in a major victory for the governor, the Supreme Court ended the probe in July, ruling that such coordination was permissible under state law.

So-called John Doe investigations are similar to grand jury proceedings. Information is kept secret and prosecutors can compel witnesses to testify as they weigh whether to pursue criminal charges.

No charges were filed in the Walker investigation, though it led to unsavory headlines about the governor. The conservative-leaning Supreme Court ordered prosecutors to return all evidence they’d collected during the probe and destroy any copies. Francis Schmitz, the special prosecutor who led the investigation, asked the high court in August to reconsider its decision.

Many of the court documents in the case — including Schmitz’s motion asking the court to reconsider its decision — have never been released due to the John Doe secrecy rules.

The investigation focused on issue ads, which are campaign advertisements that advocate for or against a candidate’s policies without expressly calling for his or her election or defeat. The Supreme Court ruled in July that the state’s ban on campaigns coordinating with outside groups was so vague that it infringed on free-speech rights. The justices said the coordination ban applied only to express advocacy, which are ads that directly call for a named candidate’s election or defeat.

HED: Potential release of Wisconsin sex offender draws opposition

Opposition is growing in Eau Claire to the release of a convicted sex offender from Wisconsin’s treatment program.

Sixty-year-old Jeffrey A. Smith has been held at the Sand Ridge Secure Treatment Center in Mauston for 12 years since he served nearly 17 years of a 25-year prison sentence for the 1987 rape and strangulation death of Susan Fahrman, who was a UW-Eau Claire student.

A court-appointed psychologist says Smith meets the legal criteria for supervised release, and the Department of Human Services says he has made significant progress in treatment. An Eau Claire County judge will hold a hearing Jan. 22.

The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports that Farhman’s siblings oppose Smith’s release and plan to attend his hearing. An online petition against Smith’s release has drawn over 2,400 signatures.

NEBRASKA

Nebraska man once sentenced to death to be released

A convicted Nebraska man has been resentenced for shooting two teenagers in 1975, and will be released from prison next year.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that Shakur Abdullah, formerly known as Rodney Stewart, was resentenced Monday, 41 years after the shooting. He will be released in January.

Prosecutors say Abdullah, who was 16 at the time, lured Thomas Ehlers and Daniel Evans for a drug deal and then shot them before setting the van they were in on fire. Ehlers was killed. Authorities say a bullet entered Evans’ skull and exited near his eye socket, leaving him blind in his right eye.

Abdullah was originally sentenced to death for the shootings, but the Nebraska Supreme Court reduced the sentence in 1977.

Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon’s decision is part of the required resentencing of juveniles who had previously received automatic life sentences.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that judges must have the option of sentencing juveniles to something other than an automatic life term. Nebraska lawmakers changed the sentencing range for juveniles convicted of murder to 40 years to life in prison.

Bataillon said Monday that he had to weigh the crime with the amount of time that has passed, as well as what Abdullah has done to better himself during his time in prison. Abdullah’s attorney, Douglas County Public Defender Tom Riley said his client had only been written up for bad behavior four times in the 40 years he has been in prison.

IOWA

Lawmaker supports executing some felons in US illegally

An Iowa state senator and congressional candidate was criticized by Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday after he said he supports executing immigrant felons who seek to re-enter the U.S. illegally after being deported.

The views of Republican Mark Chelgren were first reported by the Journal Express newspaper in Knoxville, Iowa. Chelgren is running for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District.

Reached by phone, Chelgren told The Associated Press that his comments came during a broader conversation about terrorism and border control. Chelgren stressed he was talking specifically about immigrants with felony convictions trying to re-enter the U.S. illegally with further criminal intent.

“I think capital punishment should be considered for people who are felons and re-enter this country illegally, yes,” Chelgren said. “We have to make sure we are not incentivizing people whose only intent is to victimize.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Andy McGuire said the comments were “vile, hateful and downright deplorable.”

Iowa Republican Party spokesman Charlie Szold said the comments “do not represent the values and the beliefs of Iowa Republicans.”

Chelgren said Democrats did not closely read his statements, which he said were directed only at a “subset” of immigrants. Asked about the Republican criticism, he said, “Those are my beliefs and my beliefs alone and I stand by them.”

Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District is currently represented by Democrat Rep. Dave Loebsack.

NORTH DAKOTA

Medical marijuana measure petition OK’d for circulation

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger has approved for circulation a medical marijuana ballot measure petition.

Jaeger on Monday said the measure’s sponsoring committee will have to gather about 13,500 qualified signatures in order to put the measure on the ballot.

With voters’ approval, the initiative would make it legal for North Dakota residents to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana for medical purposes. It says those who qualify could obtain the drug from a state-licensed dispensary or grow a limited supply for personal use.

Jaeger says signatures must be turned in by Feb. 15 if the committee intends to place the measure on the June 14 ballot. If the committee wants it placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, its deadline to submit the signatures is July 11.

 

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