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Across the Region: Lawyer acquitted in killings of dad, his girlfriend


Lawyer acquitted in killings of dad, his girlfriend

A suburban Kansas City attorney has been found not guilty of killing her millionaire father and his girlfriend in a vicious attack at their Missouri lake house that prosecutors said was fueled by jealousy, even though jurors said they doubted her innocence.

Susan “Liz” Van Note, 48, of Lee’s Summit, was acquitted Tuesday night of two counts of first-degree murder in the 2010 deaths of 67-year-old William Van Note and 59-year-old Sharon Dickson.

Dickson died at the couple’s Lake of the Ozarks vacation house after being stabbed and shot. William Van Note was also stabbed and shot, but he survived and was taken to a Columbia hospital. Prosecutors say Susan Van Note subsequently forged her father’s signature on power of attorney documents so she could authorize his removal from the ventilator that was keeping him alive.

Jury foreman Merri Hess said the panel felt Van Note, who specialized in end-of-life matters, was involved but that they couldn’t convict her on the evidence presented.

“‘Not guilty’ does not mean innocent,” Hess said.

Authorities allege Susan Van Note had filed for bankruptcy and was angry that her father had named Dickson to inherit the bulk of his estate, which had a net worth in 2009 of nearly $8 million. After his death, his daughter assumed the role of the estate’s executor.

Lead prosecutor Kevin Zoellner described Van Note in his closing argument as a “terrible killer” who “used her mouth to tell the hospital to kill” her father. He said a call from Van Note’s cellphone to her home pinged a tower near the crime scene minutes after the attack.

Her attorneys pointed to another man, who has since disappeared, as the killer. No hair, blood, DNA or fibers linked Van Note to the crime scene.

Susan Van Note’s mother, Barbara Van Note, told investigators that her daughter was home in Lee’s Summit when the killings happened 119 miles away in Sunrise Beach. Barbara Van Note went to prison in 2005 for forging her own mother’s name to a power of attorney, and she was ordered to repay $108,000 to a trust fund.

The trial initially was to have been in June 2015, but a mistrial was declared. A second attempt at the proceedings two months later ended when Susan Van Note’s lawyers challenged the admissibility of cellphone evidence.

Dickson’s son, Andrew Dickson, has a wrongful death case pending against Susan Van Note.



Lawyer to panel: No promises to ‘Making a Murderer’ inmate

State attorneys tried to persuade a panel of federal appellate judges that a Wisconsin inmate featured in the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” made a voluntary confession and was properly convicted.

Brendan Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 in connection with Teresa Halbach’s death two years earlier. Dassey told detectives he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach in the Avery family’s Manitowoc County salvage yard. Avery was sentenced to life in prison in a separate trial.

A federal magistrate judge overturned Dassey’s conviction in August, ruling investigators took advantage of the then-16-year-old Dassey’s cognitive disabilities and tricked him into confessing with false promises that he would be all right. The state Department of Justice has appealed; Dassey remains in prison pending the outcome.

Attorneys for both DOJ and Dassey presented oral arguments to a three-judge panel at the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago on Tuesday.

DOJ Deputy Solicitor General Luke Berg told the panel detectives never made Dassey any specific promises. Judge Ilana Rovner asked whether Dassey, whom the judge described as “extremely suggestible,” wouldn’t have concluded based on the questioning that he would be able to go home rather than getting arrested.

Berg insisted the investigators acted properly and didn’t so much as imply promises. Judge David Hamilton seemed to dispute that, telling Berg that obviously the investigators made vague promises of leniency.

Dassey’s attorney, Laura Nirider, argued the detectives made a “drumbeat of promises” before every major admission in the confession. Hamilton, though, told her he had watched the entire interrogation and didn’t think Dassey’s will was subverted.

The arguments lasted less than an hour. The panel has no time table for a decision and it could be months before they rule.

Dassey, now 27, and Avery have contended police framed them. They say police went after them to stop a lawsuit Avery had filed demanding millions from Manitowoc County because he spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. Avery is pursuing his own appeal.

Their cases gained national attention in 2015 after Netflix aired “Making a Murderer,” a multi-part documentary examining Halbach’s death. The series spawned widespread conjecture about their innocence. Authorities who worked on the cases say the series was biased.


Federal judge grants anonymity to Syrian refugee

A federal judge granted anonymity to a Syrian refugee living in Dane County who filed a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

The man had requested anonymity because he feared for the safety of his wife and three-year-old daughter, who are still in Aleppo. The man had been imprisoned and tortured by military regimes before being granted asylum status.

U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled Tuesday that the man’s right to protect his family outweighed the public’s interest.

The man had applied for his family to join him in the United States, but the lawsuit says processing was halted with Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order stopping travel from seven countries and suspending Syrian refugees.

Conley ordered defendants to answer questions about the application’s status by Friday at noon.


Divided court OK’s admission of toxicology report without author’s testimony

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court has resolved a question over whether results of certain toxicology reports can be admitted at trial without having the author of the report testify.

The court ruled 5-2 on Tuesday that toxicology reports that are part of a routine autopsy to determine the cause of death can be admitted as evidence without having the author testify.

The ruling comes after state appeals courts split over whether such reports could be admitted.

Tuesday’s ruling came in the case of Rozerick Mattox, who was convicted of first-degree homicide for delivering heroin that caused the death of Samuel E. Lueck in 2013 in Waukesha.

Mattox argued at trial that admitting the toxicology report in his homicide trial violated his constitutional right to confront the doctor who wrote it.



South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Lori Wilbur to retire

South Dakota Supreme Court Justice Lori Wilbur has announced she will be retiring this summer.

Wilbur has been part of the state’s judicial branch for nearly 25 years and has held every judicial position in the state including law clerk, magistrate judge and circuit judge. She was appointed to South Dakota’s Supreme Court by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2011 and will step down in June.

Chief Justice David Gilbertson told KSFY-TV that Wilbur is the only person in history who has held every position. He says she distinguished herself in all of them.

In a statement, Wilbur says she is “deeply grateful for the opportunity” and for the relationships she gained in the court system.

Daugaard will appoint Wilbur’s successor in the coming months.


Doctors sue over promises in doomed hospital investment

A dozen South Dakota doctors have gone to court claiming they were given false information about a hospital in which they invested.

The doctors invested in Progressive Acute Care, a company that owned three hospitals in central Louisiana. PAC executives came up with a plan to buy a fourth hospital in Louisiana. The doctors say they were told a return of ten times their investment was possible.

The Argus Leader reports the doctors’ lawsuit says they were given falsified revenue numbers on the fourth hospital. PAC sustained severe losses that plunged it into bankruptcy in 2016.



Settlement reached in class action over price fixing of ice

The settlement of a price fixing case could put a little cash in the pockets of those who bought Artic Glacier ice in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The ice company is among those that have settled a national class action lawsuit on fixing the price of bags and blocks of ice.

According to KFGO, people who bought that brand of ice between January 2001 and early March of 2008 could get $12 reimbursement.


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