Judge’s decision to vacate sentence of Oconomowoc man, convicted of sexual assault, required deeper examination
Oconomowoc Today typically does not cover “crime” stories. They are not part of our mission. But we made an exception earlier this week when we published an article about a local man’s release from prison after being convicted of a sex crime involved a second-grader at a local elementary school. We did not cover the story when the man was arrested, convicted, or sentenced for the reason stated above.
Our exception came after several residents expressed concern about the man’s presence back in the community. They were also upset that there had been no public announcement that he was no longer in prison, despite having been sentenced to a six-year term. Why was he out and walking the streets of their neighborhood, they asked.
Clearly there was an information void and when there is a void, misinformation often fills the void.
For example, they were upset that the Oconomowoc Police Department had not notified them that the man had been released. As parents with small children they were understandably concerned.
After talking with the state Department of Corrections and local police, we learned that (1) no agency notified local authorities that the man had been released, and (2) he was released because a court vacated his sentence. That means he was no longer a convicted felon. It also meant that despite the conviction, he was not listed on the state’s registry of sex offenders. In essence, his status went back to that of someone charged, but not convicted of a crime.
We wrote that in our article, but we wrote the article reluctantly because there was both a lack of information and misinformation on a public safety issue that needed to be addressed.
Our reluctance also centered on an awareness that in most criminal matters there is a lot of collateral damage to those involved directly or indirectly. Additionally, there is almost always more to a case than is reported and the issues surrounding it are often extremely complex. This is one of those cases. Everyone involved has been harmed and the scars incurred may never go away. Lives have been changed in unimaginable ways. It is a human tragedy, pure and simple. Our article and those that may be forthcoming from other sources will compound the hurt.
But the public has a right to know what is happening within our legal system. It also has a right to be protected if there is danger in its midst. Information can and does shed light where it is needed.
In this case the public needs to know that the court, in its ruling, has determined that if the man had effective legal representation and that representation had acted responsibly, the outcome–a guilty verdict–might have been different. It did not say it would have been different, only that if the man’s defense had acted in accordance with what the courts have ruled is effective representation, the jury would have had more information to use in its deliberations. In successfully arguing their case to the court, the man’s new defense team argued that issues concerning the man’s mental health should have been raised by his original defense team. In addition, the new defense team cited multiple errors that, in the opinion of the court, left it “… satisfied that the full matter wasn’t tried.” It also said that all of us are entitled to effective representation, whatever the circumstances.
So it ordered the man released, on bail, pending an appeal of the decision by the Waukesha County District Attorney’s office.That of course, could take months. Then, everyone involved is facing the prospect of another gut-wrenching, time-consuming, expensive trial. The tragedy will continue, which just compounds it. Surely there are options here that will satisfy both the public, and those most directly involved. Let’s hope legal egos and politics don’t jeep this from happening.