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State Supreme Court to hear DNA arguments in murder case PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Bill Schanen IV   
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 19:27

Man serving life for 1982 Grafton slaying, Innocence Project want evidence tested using modern science

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin is poised to write the latest chapter in the legal saga of Jeffrey C. Denny, one of two brothers sentenced to life in prison for a gruesome 1982 murder in Grafton.

In response to a petition filed by the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, the highest court in the state has agreed to review a Court of Appeals ruling that Denny is 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 by the District 2 Wisconsin Court of Appeals in March overturned a January 2015 ruling by Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joseph Voiland that Denny was not entitled to have DNA tests performed on evidence.

At issue is whether the results of such tests would be relevant to his case, and legal observers say that because the legal issues deal with due process rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, as well as post-conviction rights, it’s possible the case could eventually be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This case is unique among the many I’ve seen in that it deals with the potential exculpatory value of the evidence found,” District Attorney Adam Gerol said. “The law involved here is somewhat in flux and touches on some very sensitive topics.”

The state’s case is being argued by the  Office of the Solicitor General, which handles high-profile litigation that moves to higher courts.

Denny’s efforts to exonerate himself, which have been the subject of several unsuccessful appeals during his more than three decades behind bars, gained new life when his case was championed in 2014 by the Wisconsin Innocence Project, a University of Wisconsin Law School group that works to exonerate people who have been wrongly convicted.

The group, along with Denny’s public defender, asked Voiland in 2014 to order DNA testing of evidence that included pieces of a shattered marijuana bong, a bloody towel, a pair of gloves and hair found clutched in Mohr’s hand.

In addition to arguing that the absence of Denny’s DNA on evidence would suggest he is innocent, DNA from other individuals on items recovered from the murder scene could indicate someone else killed Mohr, according to a motion filed by the Innocence Project.

“Finding another individual’s DNA instead of Denny’s DNA on this evidence would make it less probable that Denny was the attacker and therefore indisputably relevant to the ultimate question before the jury: the identity of the real killer,” Denny’s lawyers argued in a brief submitted in September.

But Gerol argued that there is no context by which to draw a meaningful conclusion about DNA found on the evidence. For instance, DNA from someone other than Mohr or either Denny brother on the bong would not prove or even suggest someone else committed the murder, only that someone else used the bong.

“The state is willing to concede that it is quite possible that third-party DNA could be recovered from the evidence,” Gerol wrote in a court brief. “However, that, standing alone, would prove nothing, not with a bong that may very likely have been shared by the victim with numerous friends at numerous parties over an unknown time frame.”

Gerol noted that there were no other suspects in the case, so DNA found on the evidence could not be compared to a specific person.

“The murder grew out of a drug-related conflict between the victim and the Denny brothers,” Gerol wrote.

Voiland also disagreed with Denny’s lawyers, arguing in a written ruling that the absence of Denny’s DNA on evidence would not undermine his conviction.

“There is no requirement that Denny be the individual (or likely, one of the individuals) who stuck a knife or two into Mohr or smashed a bong over his head,” Voiland wrote. “A jury could have found Denny guilty as a party to the crime if he acted in concert with the others who inflicted the wounds while Denny stood lookout in the hallway, leaving none of his DNA at the scene.” 

But the court of appeals, which not only ruled that Denny is entitled to have DNA evidence testing done but that it must be done at the state’s expense, found that Denny’s lawyers satisfied all the legal requirements for DNA testing.

“Denny showed that the items he sought to test were relevant to the investigation or prosecution that resulted in his conviction, that it is reasonably probable that he would not have been convicted if exculpatory DNA testing results had been available at the time of his conviction, and the testing he seeks was not available at the time of his conviction,” Appeals Court Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer wrote in the court’s March 23 opinion.  

The appeals court also rejected Voiland’s argument that because the physical evidence in question did not result in Denny’s conviction, testing of it is not relevant.

“It is not difficult to imagine a scenario where evidence recovered during the investigation but not presented at trial is, due to advancement in scientific techniques, relevant,” Neubauer wrote. “Thus, the trial court applied an improper legal standard when concluding that the evidence Denny wants tested was not relevant because it did not result in conviction.”

Denny, who was 17 at the time of Mohr’s murder, and his brother Kent, who was 19, were convicted of first-degree murder after a nine-day trial in November 1982.

Jeffrey Denny is currently incarcerated at the Oakhill Correctional Institution, a minimum security prison in Oregon just south of Madison.

Kent Denny has since died, according to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Division of Community Corrections office in Saukville. According to news reports and his obituary, he was killed in a one-vehicle accident on Jan. 1, 2012, in northern Wisconsin.

According to the criminal complaint in the case, a friend of Mohr found him covered in blood on the floor of a bedroom just after 11 a.m. on Jan. 26, 1982.

An autopsy concluded that Mohr died of the stab wounds he suffered, but that he also suffered blunt force injuries to his head and face and a broken nose.

During a John Doe hearing held five months later, Trent Denny, the brother of Kent and Jeffrey, testified that shortly after he was released from jail on an unrelated matter, Kent and Jeffrey told him they killed Mohr.

According to Trent’s testimony, Kent gave him the following account of the murder:

Kent said he and Jeffrey went to Mohr’s home on Jan. 26, 1982, and Kent asked Mohr how he was. When Mohr replied he was fine, Kent stabbed him in the stomach and asked him how he was feeling then, according to the complaint.

Jeffrey then took the knife and began stabbing Mohr while Kentbroke a bong over Mohr’s head.

Trent also testified that in March 1982, two months after the murder, he, Kent and a female friend drove to a Grafton cemetery where Kent retrieved a paper bag that he said contained clothing he had to dispose of. Trent said they drove to the Town of Port Washington dump and threw the bag, which smelled like blood, into a dumpster, according to the complaint.

During the trial, numerous people testified that Kent and Jeffrey had told them they killed Mohr. 

Among the physical evidence introduced at the trial was a pair of shoes allegedly owned by Jeffrey that the prosecutor attempted to link to a bloody footprint in a hallway at the scene.

“The sole physical evidence tying Denny to the crime was a single shoe sole imprint found on a phone book at the crime scene, which appeared to have a tread pattern similar to a pair of Denny’s shoes,” Denny’s lawyers wrote in their motion. But, the lawyers noted, a Wisconsin State Crime Lab analyst could not positively match the shoe print to Denny.

“The remaining evidence relied upon by the state consisted of witnesses who claimed they heard Denny confess to the murder,” Denny’s lawyers argued. “As explained in his original motion for DNA testing, the case against Denny was weak.” 

Denny’s case has been assigned to the Supreme Court’s Justice on Wheels program, an initiative intended to improve public access to the court’s proceedings. Oral arguments have been scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Bayfield County Courthouse in Washburn.Daily Press

City poised to market Sleepy Hollow parcel PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 19:26

The City of Port Washington may be getting ready to sell yet another property, but this one isn’t near the lakefront.

The Plan Commission on July 21 declared a vacant lot at the corner of Pierre Lane and Sauk Drive surplus, a precursor to the potential sale of the land.

The property is currently vacant except for a sign declaring the neighborhood’s name, “Sleepy Hollow.”

A neighbor’s fence and shed are encroaching on the property, City Planner Randy Tetzlaff said, and the neighbor has expressed interest in obtaining at least a small part of the land to comply with city codes.

The property, which is currently considered park land, was among those on an inventory prepared by Ald. Bill Driscoll, who is looking for unused city parcels that could be sold, Mayor Tom Mlada said.

The lot is buildable, said Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven, a commission member.

“It would be a challenging site,” he added.

Because of the issues, Vanden Noven said, it might make more sense to talk to the neighbor to see if he wants to buy the parcel than putting it up for bid.

“Rather than having a home built on it, he may just want to buy it,” he said. “I would think its highest value is in its entirety.”

That’s a decision for the Common Council to make, Tetzlaff said, noting aldermen will decide whether to sell the parcel and the process to do this.Daily Press

Break-ins reported at town residences PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 20:01

Authorities are investigating burglaries at two rural properties last week.

The Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department reported break-ins at residences in the Town of Grafton on July 18 and in the Town of Saukville on July 20.

The July 18 burglary occurred between 11 a.m. and noon at a residence in the 1000 block of Highway C.

Forced entries were reportedly made to  a locked door on the house and a detached garage. The house was ransacked, with thieves removing electronics, cash, jewelry, tools, alcohol and other valuables.

The Town of Saukville burglary occurred between 9 and 11 a.m. at a house in the 2800 block of South Riverside Drive.

After breaking through a locked door, intruders ransacked the residence and stole electronics, cash, jewelry and prescription medication.

“The burglaries appear to be similar in nature based on the location of the residences, items taken and the time of day that the burglaries were committed,” Sheriff’s Lt. Marshall Hermann said.

Hermann said the thieves appear to have targeted “remote locations with long driveways not visible from the road and in close proximity to the freeway.”

He asked residents to provide any information they may have about the break-ins and to watch for suspicious behavior around houses, especially during daytime hours.

For more information, call the department at 284-7172 or text “OZSO + your tip” anonymously to 847411.Daily Press

Maxwell Street Day returns to Port July 30 PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 19:59

Port Washington’s Maxwell Street Day sale will be held Saturday, July 30.

About 45 downtown businesses and outside vendors will set up booths along Franklin Street to offer summer sales to customers from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Parking won’t be allowed on Franklin Street during the sale, since many of the businesses will display their sale racks in the parking lane, said Cathy Wilger, co-director of Port Main Street Inc., which sponsors the sale.

Shoppers are warned to beware of traffic when perusing the merchandise, since the road will be open, she said.

Two downtown restaurants, Yummy Bones and Twisted Willow, will serve lunch outside during the event, organizers said.

The Maxwell Street sale will complement the city’s farmers market, which will run from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the 100 block of East Main Street.

“We’ve also got Lionsfest going on, so there should be plenty for people to do in downtown,” Wilger said.Daily Press

New Exploreum exhibit on inland water impact to run through July 31 PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 July 2016 18:56

A traveling exhibit that examines the impact of lakes and streams to Lake Michigan is being housed at the Port Exploreum for the next 10 days.

“Great Lakes Small Streams: How Water Shapes Wisconsin” is a complement to the Exploreum’s regular offerings, said Wayne Chrusciel, executive director of the Port Washington Historical Society, which runs the museum.

The exhibit opened Monday and runs through Sunday, July 31.

It is comprised of eight double-sided banners and an interactive kiosk, the exhibit that allows visitors to track the movement of glaciers, follow changes made to local rivers over time or seek out easy solutions to save water in their own homes. 

It is intended to stimulate visitors to think about how people interact with the environment, with an emphasis on how people’s relationship with water shaped Wisconsin’s past and will continue to shape its future, according to the Historical Society.

“It’s pretty neat,” Chrusciel said, noting the exhibit has been in numerous coastal communities in the state, most recently Kenosha.

“It’s chock-full of information about the connection between inland lakes and streams and how they relate to Lake Michigan.”

The Exploreum, 118 N. Franklin St., is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day but Tuesday. 

The museum’s current exhibit, “Nothin’ But Nets: The Legacy of Commercial Fishing in Lake Michigan,” will run through mid-September, when it will be replaced by an exhibit on shipwrecks in the area.Daily Press

Two Port residents register for county treasurer election PDF Print E-mail
Daily News
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 13 July 2016 17:58

Two Republicans from Port Washington will vie for the Ozaukee County treasurer in fall.

Karen Makoutz held the position since 1993 —back when everything was done in pencil and paper — and is retiring to spend time enjoying an array of interests.

Makoutz began her career with Ozaukee County 33 years ago, working as County Clerk Harold Dobberpuhl’s chief deputy for nine years before being elected treasurer. 

Cari Anne Mihalko and Joshua Morrison turned in papers to run on the November ballot. A primary Aug. 9 will determine who advances.

Three other Port Washington residents took out papers to run but did not return them.

The term for the county clerk is four years.Daily Press

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