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Supreme Court overturns DNA decision in 1982 murder case PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 01 March 2017 19:05

Judges rule Denny is not entitled to have evidence from Grafton crime tested

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has ruled that Jeffrey C. Denny, one of two brothers sentenced to life in prison for a gruesome 1982 murder in Grafton, is not entitled to have evidence in his case tested for DNA.

In issuing its ruling Tuesday, the court overruled the Court of Appeals, which had said Denny was entitled to have evidence in his case tested for DNA more than 34 years after the crime. Such tests did not exist when Grafton resident Christopher Mohr was bludgeoned and stabbed to death at his home on Jan. 26, 1982.

The decision also effectively reiterates one made by Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Joseph Voiland in January 2015 stating that Denny was not entitled to DNA testing of a shattered marijuana bong, a bloody towel, a pair of gloves and hair found clutched in Mohr’s hand.

Denny’s case is being handled by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, which argued that the absence of his DNA on the objects could suggest he is innocent and the presence of other’s DNA could indicate someone else killed Mohr. The state’s case is being argued by the Office of the Solicitor General.

One of the main issues before the court was whether the result of DNA test would be relevant in Denny’s case.

Ozaukee County District Attorney Adam Gerol said Wednesday that the court’s decision recognizes “this is simply one of the cases where the evidence of guilt is so extreme that the defendant doesn’t get it (the testing).”

However, Gerol said, there are still questions left unanswered in the decision about when a defendant is entitled to post-conviction DNA testing that may mean it will be appealed. “There are some interesting things I think might make it amenable to federal review,” he said. “I don’t know that the U.S. Supreme Court has really weighed in on post-conviction DNA testing.”

Denny was 17 and his brother Kent was 19 when they were convicted of first-degree murder after a nine-day trial.

Jeffrey Denny is incarcerated at the Oakhill Correctional Institution. Kent Denny has died, according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Division of Community Corrections.

The two were convicted in the death of Mohr, with the state arguing the murder grew out of a drug-related dispute between  Mohr and the Dennys.Daily Press

School District tries to spark interest in land it wants to sell PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 20:02

Port parcel seen as ideal for subdivision worth $800,000 by one estimate

Attempting to spark efforts to sell 54.5 acres of farmland the Port Washington-Saukville School District has owned for more than 47 years, the School Board last week decided to release a marketing report that describes the property as an attractive site for residential development.

The report, prepared by Moegenburg Research Inc. of Milwaukee, concludes that, based on an average size of 14,000 square feet, 127 lots could be developed on the property, which is north of Grand Avenue and east of Highway LL on Port Washington’s west side. 

That suggests the property, once seen as a future site for a school, could be a windfall for the district, although the excerpts of the Moegenburg report released by the district do not include appraisal information.

The district has not released the appraisal to protect its bargaining interests, Supt. Michael Weber said, and is in the process of having the land reappraised in light of an increase in new home construction in Port Washington. 

Tom Didier, owner/broker of Re/Max United Port Washington, who is not involved in efforts to sell the property, said in an interview this week that with an increasing demand for residential sites in the Port Washington area, it’s a seller’s market.

“All the market indications are good, and inventory is very low,” he said. “All the data we’ve seen suggests this year will mimic last year, which was pretty busy.”

High demand for residential sites is driving up prices, although not to where they were in the early 2000s when land was selling for $20,000 or more an acre, Didier said.

“Then the market tanked,” he said.

But in the current market, land like that owned by the School District, which is abutted by utilities and city streets, could sell for $15,000 an acre, Didier said. That would make the property worth more than $800,000.

“I don’t think we’re back in the $20,000-an-acre range, but maybe $15,000,” he said.

Thus far, the School Board has been committed to the for-sale-by-owner approach. Although it solicited proposals from brokers, it shelved those in September when it received an unsolicited offer for the property. The board countered that offer, which officials described as attractive, but the counteroffer has lapsed.

The board received a second offer earlier this year, but after meeting in closed session to consider it, took no action.

“We’ve received a couple more inquiries,” Director of Business Services Jim Froemming told the board last week.

Although farmland now, the property is seen as a desirable residential site because of its location and proximity to other subdivisions — Spinnaker West to the south, The Woods at White Pine to the west and Lake Ridge to the east. It’s bordered by farmland to the north.

Referring to comments from area real estate brokers, the Moegenburg report states, “They noted that the (property) has a great location within Port Washington and all utilities and services are to the site boundaries. The only downfall is the fact that there are a number of other subdivisions in the area that are trying to fill up, which provides greater competition.”

In May, a year after the approval of a $49.4 million referendum that reflects the board’s commitment to renovating and expanding its current schools rather than building new ones, officials decided it was time to sell the land the district has long owned.

The district purchased the property, which is comprised of two parcels, in January 1969 from Elmer and Myrtle Bley for $149,944.

Since then it has been seen as a site for a future school, but as the city developed around it and the needs of schools changed, it became a less desirable school site. And with the approval of a referendum that provides $46.5 million to modernize the high school and $3.8 million to expand Dunwiddie Elementary School, officials said it was time put the property on the market.

Proceeds from the sale of the land are to be used to finance capital improvements, and a leading contender is Port Washington High School’s outdoor athletic facilities, officials have said. While the referendum is financing building improvements, it does not include money for outdoor athletic facilities. 

Officials envision a fairly sweeping project that would include the replacement of the grass football field with artificial turf, new lighting and sound systems and a press box. The project could be expanded to include artificial turf and other improvements to the baseball diamonds and track and field facilities. Daily Press

County won’t eliminate Summerfest bus stop PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Mitch Maersch   
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 19:59

Popular service will continue to use Saukville lot

The Summerfest bus stop in Saukville has been saved.

Ozaukee County’s Public Works Committee last week agreed to keep the bus stop after getting input from the manager of one of the businesses that would have been affected if it was discontinued.

If eliminated, the county’s only stop for a bus to the world’s largest music festival would have been at the Home Depot and Target parking lot in Grafton.

Transit Supt. Jason Wittek told the committee he talked to the manager of Home Depot and “it went about as well as I thought.”

Wittek said the manager told him he did not like the idea of occupying the extra riders in his parking lot during late June and early July since the Fourth of July is one of the peak times for the big-box retailer.

Of riders using the Ozaukee County service, 63% use the Target and Home Depot lot. The parking capacity of the combined lot is about 900 spaces. The Walmart stop in Saukville has 500.

Wittek said he estimated an additional 200 parking spaces at the Grafton stop could be occupied if the Saukville stop was eliminated.

“If I told him 50 spaces, I don’t think he would go for that either,” Wittek said.

Committee member LeRoy Haeuser suggested respecting the manager’s wishes.

“Our businesses pay a lot of taxes,” he said.

Wittek said he hadn’t yet contacted the manager of Target.

Eliminating the Saukville stop would have saved the county an estimated $26,000.

At the committee’s meeting in December, Wittek said that if the Saukville stop was eliminated, Summerfest buses would have stopped in Grafton every 15 minutes instead of every 20.

In Wittek’s report to the committee, the Milwaukee County Transit System, which operates the bus, said eliminating the Saukville stop would streamline service while decreasing costs, increasing bus frequency and shortening ride times.

Due to the popularity of the service, MCTS had provided paid staff at both stops to help with payment and boarding. An online ticket purchase system implemented last year helped reduce costs.

Operating costs and maintenance for the two-stop service last year totaled $126,500, which was offset by $87,000 in ridership fees. That left the county paying MCTS $39,500.Daily Press

Man accused of running meth lab in Fredonia PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 20:52

Village resident charged with operating drug house nearDaily1 school after investigators find evidence in garbage

A 34-year-old man who authorities suspect was operating a methamphetamine lab in Fredonia was charged last week in Ozaukee County Circuit Court with running a drug house in the heart of the village.

Eric M. Zukaitis faces felony charges of possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine near a school, maintaining a drug trafficking place and second-offense possession of marijuana.

He also faces a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.

In all instances, he is charged as a repeat offender and would face additional penalties if convicted.

According to the criminal complaint, a confidential informant working with the Ozaukee County Anti-Drug Task Force told authorities that he purchased methamphetamine from Zukaitis, who frequently uses the drug. After the informant ingested the drug, he said, he immediately knew that Zukaitis had made it himself.

The informant said he believed Zukaitis made methamphetamine using the one-pot method in which the drug is produced by mixing several chemicals in plastic bottles rather than in a more sophisticated lab.

On Jan. 13 and Feb. 3, authorities picked up garbage left in a bin at the end of Zukaitis’ driveway and sorted through it. 

Among the items found was a bottle of Drano Max Gel, a clog dissolver that contains sulfuric acid, which is used to make methamphetamine, the complaint states.

Also found in the garbage were plastic bags and syringes with traces of methamphetamine in them, empty syringe packages and items such as letters and an identification badge linking the garbage to Zukaitis, according to the complaint.  On Feb. 7, members of the Anti-Drug Task Force searched the duplex in the 400 block of Fredonia Avenue where Zukaitis lived with his 12-year-old daughter on the second floor.

Authorities found Zukaitis in the kitchen of the lower level near a cabinet containing drug paraphernalia such as glass pipes used for smoking crystal methamphetamine, tourniquets and syringes, the complaint states.

Also found in the duplex were six Adderall pills, an amphetamine used to treat attention deficit disorder but also abused by people seeking a high similar to cocaine, syringes containing methamphetamine and eight cell phones, according to the complaint.

Last week, Ozaukee County Circuit Judge Paul Malloy set bail for Zukaitis at $15,000 and ordered him not to have contact with his daughter and to maintain absolute sobriety.

Possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine is punishable by a maximum 10 years in prison and five years of extended supervision. Because Zukaitis is accused of selling drugs within 1,000 feet of Divine Savior Catholic School, he would face additional time in prison if convicted. 

Because he would be a repeat offender if convicted, he could be sentenced to even more time in prison.

The other two felonies he faces are each punishable by a maximum 1-1/2 years in prison and two years of extended supervision, plus addition time in each case because he would be a repeat offender if convicted.

Zukaitis was convicted of possessing narcotic drugs in 2012 in Milwaukee County.

According to court records, Zukaitis was also convicted of burglary and robbery with use of force in Ozaukee County in 2001. He was sentenced to eight years in prison but that sentence was stayed and he was placed on probation for eight years.

He was also convicted of burglary in 2000.

TJ assistant principal among PW-S staff to retire at end of school year PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 15 February 2017 20:46

The Port Washington-Saukville School Board on Monday approved the retirement requests of several employees, including longtime Thomas Jefferson Middle School Assistant Principal Liz Ferger.

Ferger, who will retire at the end of the school year, has been the second in command at the middle school for 20 years.Daily Press

In her role as assistant principal of the 800-student school, Ferger has served as athletic director and extracurricular program coordinator, has overseen the district’s summer school program and organized and chaperoned the annual eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C.

Ferger worked all but a year of her career at the school with Arlan Galarowicz, who retired as principal at the end of the 2015-16 school year. Steve Sukawaty was hired to replace him.

The board also approved the retirements of Janet Trzecinski, office manager and secretary to the principal at Port Washington High School; math teacher Maureen Jajtner and Spanish teacher Catherine DeMerit, both of whom work at the high school; and  fifth-grade teacher Beth Breuer.

All retirements are effective at the end of the school year.

Breakwater work to restart, city urges state to OK grant PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Thursday, 09 February 2017 00:40

The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday approved a resolution urging the state’s Joint Finance Committee to approve a $550,000 recreational boating facilities grant for the breakwater project.

The grant, which was approved by the Waterways Commission, would go to pay for upgrades to the easternmost portion of the breakwater, a project city officials hope will begin later this year.

But even as the city tries to obtain funding for that portion of the project, work on the gateway portion of the breakwater is slated to begin in the next week or two.

Mayor Tom Mlada announced Tuesday that the breakwater is likely to close late this week or early next week so construction can start.

“Providing the weather holds, we’re looking forward to some early spring work this year,” he said.

Work on the first phase of the gateway project was to begin last fall. However, the city opted to delay it after learning there were potentially significant cost savings if it combined portions of the first and second phases of the project.

The first phase of the gateway project will make improvements to much of the breakwater infrastructure at the far west end — replacing most of the structure from the west side to the steel cell section.

It includes widening the walkway near the shore, making the breakwater handicapped accessible and creating a fishing platform.

The second phase includes improvements to the land around the breakwater, such as landscaping, creation of a boardwalk and a connection to the bike path.Daily Press

Even as the gateway project moves ahead, the city is looking to the next phase of the work.

City Administrator Mark Grams said the grant for the eastern end of the breakwater was the only one approved by the Waterways Commission that wasn’t OK’d by the Joint Finance Committee.

“One member expressed concerns,” he said, primarily about community support for the project. “They wanted more information.”

The resolution formalizes the community’s commitment to complete the work, ensuring the state that the project is consistent with the city plans and requests the grant.

It also states that the city will provide as much as $550,000 in matching funds and in-kind services for the project. 

The Joint Finance Committee is expected to meet later this month and will likely take up the matter again at that time, Grams added.

Even after that work is done, Mlada said, the city will need to find funding to repair the south breakwater, which is in dire condition.

“There is no armor stone protecting that south breakwater,” he said. “Our work is not done.”

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