Lawyer acquitted in killings of her 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.
AFSCME sues over new restrictions on collective bargaining
A new Iowa law that eliminates most collective bargaining rights for public workers is unconstitutional and should be immediately blocked, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by a key union in the state.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Iowa Council 61 argues that the law violates language in the Iowa Constitution that ensures equality to citizens. The group — Iowa’s largest state employees union, representing 40,000 public employees — also asked for an injunction to halt the law’s enforcement.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad on Friday signed the law, which prohibits public sector unions from negotiating issues such as health insurance and supplemental pay. The law is similar to a 2011 collective bargaining law passed in Wisconsin that sparked large protests and legal challenges.
“The governor signing this bill is not the end. This is only the beginning,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 in a conference call about the lawsuit Monday. “We intend to use every legal opportunity we have to challenge the constitutionality of this law.”
Branstad spokesman Ben Hammes declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit but said he wasn’t surprised Homan “has desperately decided to run to the courts with expensive litigation.”
The lawsuit was filed as Branstad prepares to resign to become U.S. ambassador to China under President Donald Trump. Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, the incoming governor, also supports the law.
The lawsuit focuses on aspects of the law that exempt certain public safety employees from some prohibited negotiations. Those exempted workers include some law enforcement officers, firefighters, park rangers and peace officers designated by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
The lawsuit argues that the law establishes two classes of public-employee bargaining units. The suit says that designation violates language in the state constitution that requires “uniform operation” on laws of general nature and states the Legislature shall not grant privileges or immunities not equally available to all citizens.
Several workers are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, including a correctional officer and a university police officer. Both are not included in the exemption because of how the law is written. The state of Iowa, among other entities, is named among the defendants.
Branstad has said the law would give local governments and school districts more flexibility with their budgets and give employers opportunities to reward good employees. On Monday, Hammes reiterated those points and said organized labor has “hid behind an outdated law that routinely won out against the best interests of Iowa taxpayers.” The collective bargaining law was passed in 1974 by a Republican governor.
The lawsuit, filed in Polk County District Court, could be the beginning of lengthy litigation over the issue. Homan, the union president, said he expects the lawsuit to be resolved through the state Supreme Court.
Supreme Court: Homicide restitution law applies to juveniles
Two women who were involved in killings when they were juveniles must pay the $150,000 in restitution required by state law in homicide cases, the Iowa Supreme Court said Friday.
The women claim in an appeal of their sentences that the restitution is excessive and amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. A majority of the court in a 4-3 decision found the restitution constitutional.
“The minimum restitution award of $150,000 is high, but not grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offenses covered under the statute,” the court said.
The justices determined that the diminished culpability of youth does not make it unconstitutional for the Legislature to mandate a $150,000 restitution award.
Justice Brent Appel, joined by David Wiggins and Daryl Hecht, disagreed with the court majority. Appel said he would send the case back to a judge to for reconsideration.
“Even offenders who commit serious criminal offenses cannot become wage slaves upon their release or encounter financial burdens so onerous that the offender ends up with an extended term of incarceration arising from inability to pay an excessive fine,” he wrote.
One challenge came from Shannon Breeden, who at age 16 helped her boyfriend attack Paula Heiser at a Davenport homeless camp in 2002, resulting in Heiser’s death.
Breeden pleaded guilty to attempted murder. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison but was released in January 2016 after 13 years when the courts struck down mandatory minimum sentences for juveniles and ordered judges to weigh a defendant’s age, maturity, family life and other factors in new sentence hearings.
The second challenge came from Daimonay Richardson, who was 15 when she and her boyfriend stabbed a man to death in Cedar Rapids in June 2013 during a robbery. She also appealed her $150,000 restitution order as part of her sentence on second-degree murder.
Richardson was sentenced to 25 years in prison but is currently scheduled to be released in March 2025.
Their attorneys, state appellate public defenders, argued the court should consider the same factors the courts have raised when reconsidering juvenile sentences in assessing restitution. They said juveniles imprisoned at a young age are less likely to find employment with adequate pay to satisfy the restitution orders.
Assistant Attorney General Tyler Buller argued that the restitution is designed to make people assume responsibility for taking the life of another and part of that is paying money to the victim’s estate.
Richardson’s attorney, Theresa Wilson, said the court ruling leaves open the possibility juveniles may challenge on different constitutional grounds payment plans set up by corrections officials if the plans don’t offer a reasonable ability to pay.
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.
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.