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Jury convicts woman accused of kidnapping, faking pregnancy

A woman accused of faking a pregnancy and kidnapping her nephew from a town of Beloit home was convicted by a jury Thursday. Kristen Smith, 31, of Colorado, was found guilty of kidnapping her 5-day-old nephew, Kayden Powell, and driving him across state lines in early February. Smith was on trial in federal court this week, and took the stand Wednesday in her defense. Kayden was found about 30 hours after he went missing inside a frost-covered plastic bin behind a gas station in Iowa. Smith testified Wednesday that she suffered a miscarriage in January two weeks before her half-sister, Brianna Marshall, gave birth to Kayden. Smith said Marshall planned to move herself, her baby and the baby's father to Colorado to live with Smith. Smith testified that when she awoke to leave Beloit the day Kayden was reported missing, Kayden's father told her to take the baby with her. Smith said when Marshall called her at about 4:30 a.m. Smith told Marshall Kayden was with Smith. When police called Smith asking her to pull over, Smith said she wasn't thinking straight at that time. The trial was halted briefly Wednesday afternoon after Smith began sobbing uncontrollably on the witness stand. An FBI agent who testified for the prosecution Wednesday morning said Smith's car was packed with baby clothes, a car seat and a stroller. Smith testified in court that the baby items in her car were placed there by Kayden's parents. The bin Kayden was found in alive on Feb. 7 was also put in Smith's car by Brianna and Kayden's father, Smith testified. The police chief who found Kayden inside the bin testified Tuesday that the lid was clamped shut and frost had formed on top. Investigators also found a prosthetic pregnancy belly in Smith's car, and evidence on her computer that she had searched for ways to create a fake pregnancy belly and looked at them on eBay. Smith faces 25 years to life in federal prison. Sentencing is set for Oct. 27.

Published: Fri, 01 Aug 2014 00:25:26 GMT

18-year-old charged with repeated sexual assault of children

An 18-year-old Spring Green woman faces prison time for allegedly sexually assaulting two teenagers she regularly had contact with over multiple years, according to a criminal complaint. Amberlyn Higgins has been charged with two counts of repeated sexual assault of a child. According to the complaint, Higgins sexually assaulted a teenage girl for seven years, and would let a man she had a relationship with watch the incidents on Skype. Higgins also allegedly sexually assaulted a teenage boy and bribed him by saying she would buy him ice cream or food and give him money, according to the complaint. Higgins admitted to police she sexually assaulted the girl more than 100 times and sexually assaulted the boy for a couple of years, according to the complaint. Higgins told police the incidents happened every day. Bond has been set at $10,000 for Higgins, and she cannot have contact with anyone involved in the incidents or with any child under the age of 18. If convicted, Higgins faces up to 80 years in prison, a $200,000 fine or both. She will be back in court Aug. 15.

Published: Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:03:40 GMT

Toddler dies after getting trapped in hot car

A 3-year-old boy in Southern California died Wednesday after he climbed into an unlocked car on a hot summer's day and was trapped, police said. The toddler was playing alone in the front yard of his house in Sylmar while his parents were home when he got into the car and couldn't get out, said Officer Bruce Borihanh with the Los Angeles Police Department. Police told CNN affiliate KABC that the boy's father woke from a nap and found the boy unresponsive. It was unclear how long the child was in the car, KABC reported. The toddler was rushed to the hospital but was pronounced dead. Police are investigating, but they do not suspect any foul play, Borihanh said. The case of a Georgia father accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son to die in a hot car has drawn national attention to a recurring nightmare. About 625 children in the United States have died of heatstroke in cars since 1998, including 19 this year and 44 last year, according to data compiled by San Francisco State University meteorology lecturer Jan Null. Based on an examination of media reports in 606 of those cases, Null found that 51% of the children were "forgotten" by the attending caregiver, as opposed to children who were left in cars knowingly (18%) or who entered an unattended vehicle (29%). "It's reasonable to call this an epidemic," said memory expert Dr. David Diamond, a scientist at the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, Florida, who is often consulted on such cases. "It happens, on average, once a week from spring to early fall."

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:10:36 GMT

Burnside: 'I am responsible for what happened'

The former Lutheran bishop charged in a deadly hit-and-run drunken-driving crash was sentenced to 10 years in prison with 5 years of extended supervision in Dane County Court on Thursday. Bruce Burnside, 60, pleaded guilty to two of the charges against him in May, including felony second-degree reckless homicide. He was originally charged with four felonies, including homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. Prosecutors said Burnside hit and killed Maureen Mengelt from Sun Prairie while she was out for an afternoon jog in April 2012. Prosecutors asked for an eight-year prison sentence for Burnside. Burnside spoke at sentencing taking responsibility for the crash. "I am responsible for what happened. No one else," he said. "I have never been so sorry. Sorry is such an insufficient word for this kind of guilt." "I was never trying to flee or run, I only wanted to get out of the way of oncoming traffic, but I also realize your intentions and your actions are not the same thing," he said. Burnside said after his wife died a few years ago he struggled with his sexuality, and admitted that inattention, cellphone use, the radio, alcohol, preoccupation with details of a church service and reaching for a misplaced GPS contributed to the crash. "I do daily return to that everlasting split second," Burnside said. "I will be a prisoner of that. I will be another kind of prisoner in a cell as well." Maureen Mengelt's husband, Kevin Mengelt, told News 3 he had hoped the case would go to trial after a year of proceedings, or that the plea deal would have been to a charge of homicide by hit-and-run. After the sentencing Kevin Mengelt said he had been concerned about Burnside not getting enough time for his crime. However, he is satisfied with the sentence and the thought put into it. "I feel much better. I mean, I was so worried for so long. It's been almost 16 months since he killed Maureen," Mengelt told reporters outside of the courthouse. "I think I can put this behind us now and just go on with our lives. I've spent too much time preparing for this day, and now I can focus on what's really important, which is my family." During Thursday's sentencing hearing, Mengelt's son, Andrew, broke down on the stand talking about the things his mother wasn't able to be there for, like his graduation. "She was a remarkable person," he said. "The best way to describe her is just one of those people who is just special." Mengelt's other daughter, Megan, said her mother was her best friend. She said that she was training with her mom when she was killed and now feels like she can no longer run. "Why would a supposed man of the cloth commit such a horrible act, and even worse, deny every bit of it? But I won't accept it. He's had one and a half years to do just that. He's not a true man and not a true man of God." Mengelt's husband, Kevin, said Maureen was the center of his family’s household. "I've spent a year making up for her loss, and I feel I've always come up short," he said.

Published: Fri, 01 Aug 2014 00:12:38 GMT

Former day care volunteer faces sex assault charges for different incident

The former day care volunteer accused of sexually assaulting a 2-year-old in March faces charges for a different incident that happened in May, according to court documents. News 3 reported two weeks ago that the volunteer, a juvenile, allegedly sexually assaulted the child who was in the care of the Red Caboose Day Care Center in March. According to court documents, the juvenile pleaded no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault for a different incident that happened in May. The juvenile has also been charged with first-degree sexual assault of a child – having intercourse with a person under the age of 12, but a finding on that charge has been withheld. As part of the fourth-degree sexual assault charge, the juvenile and their parents have to comply with a list of conditions, according to the documents. In addition to the conditions below, the juvenile has to live with their mother until July 2015, and has to participate in treatment and therapy programs. The conditions include:Be available to and cooperate with the department social worker Obey reasonable rules of parents, school, social workerNot have contact with victims, victims' families or the Red Caboose Day Care Have no unsupervised contact with children under the age of 10 unless authorized Do not babysit or be left alone in child-caring roleProvide written letters of apology to victims and familiesCannot have cellphone with Internet accessOnly use computer under adult supervisionNot commit further law violationsNot use or possess alcohol, or illegal or synthetic drugsNot use or possess any weaponsEngage in no acts or threats of violence toward anyoneAdvise the social worker immediately of any police contactsAttend school regularly with no unexcused absencesNot be in possession of sexually explicit materials According to the documents, if any of the conditions are violated, the juvenile may be put in a juvenile detention center for up to 10 days, put in a place of non-secure custody for up to 10 days, have their driver’s license suspended for up to three years, be detained in their home for up to 30 days with electronic monitoring, and have to complete up to 25 hours of uncompensated participation in a supervised work program or community service. Officials said Red Caboose Day Care Center employees were notified of the alleged abuse in March, but they did not immediately report it to authorities. The state was notified of the March incident on July 8, which led to the day care center’s license being revoked. Day care officials said they are appealing the state’s decision to revoke its license. According to the Department of Children and Families website, Red Caboose is currently rated with one out of five stars.

Published: Fri, 01 Aug 2014 01:37:07 GMT

UWPD: Graffiti vandals cause $1.5K in damage to Picnic Point

University of Wisconsin-Madison police said taggers have caused more than $1,500 in damage to Picnic Point. UWPD was contacted by campus staff on Wednesday about graffiti at Picnic Point, according to a release. Officers said there are multiple tags sprayed on one of the fire pits. Damage is estimated to be more than $1,500. Police believe the tagging happened sometime between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon. Officials ask anyone with information or anyone who saw anything suspicious in the Picnic Point area during that time to call UWPD at 608-264-COPS.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:16:16 GMT

Guilty pleas entered from man accused in hit-and-run deaths

The man accused of hitting two motorcyclists and leaving the drivers to die in Janesville earlier this year pleaded guilty in Rock County court Thursday. Sambath Pal, 24, of Park City, Illinois, was charged with two felony counts of hit-and-run resulting in death in connection with a crash April 20 that killed 24-year-old Mitchell Vance and 18-year-old Devin Julius. Both died when the motorcycles they were riding were hit. Pal pleaded guilty to both counts Thursday, according to online court records. The judge had initially entered not guilty pleas on Pal's behalf, onMay 16, as Pal had stood mute in court. The Janesville Gazette reported that Assistant District Attorney Anne Nack said Pal was not offered a deal in exchange for guilty pleas. Family members were in the courtroom but did not comment after the hearing. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Oct. 1 at 3 p.m.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:40:34 GMT

Two people shot during armed robbery in Edgerton

Police are still looking for three men in connection with an overnight shooting in Edgerton that sent two people to the hospital, according to Edgerton police. Edgerton police said the shooting happened at the 2Brothers bar on Fulton Street around midnight. According to police, three armed robbers entered the bar and demanded money.  Patrons struggled with the men, which led to two people being shot. The two people, a 28-year-old Janesville man and a 42-year-old from Cross Plains were taken to Mercy Hospital in Janesville for gunshot wounds, where they were treated and released. The three men got away with an unknown amount of cash, according to police. Police said two people were taken into custody later in the evening, but police released them after they were questioned. Anyone with information about this incident is asked to call Edgerton police at 884-3321.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 12:33:16 GMT

1 dead, 1 hurt in plane crash near air show

The Experimental Aircraft Association says a pilot was killed and his passenger seriously injured when a plane crashed at the Oshkosh airport, where planes taking part in the annual AirVenture convention land. EAA spokesman Dick Knapinksi says the plane went down on the southeast side of Wittman Regional Airport about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Knapinski says the man piloting the custom-built Breezy aircraft died from his injuries. The pilot's female passenger is in serious condition. Names and hometowns of those involved were not immediately released. Knapinski says the airport was closed temporarily, but was reopened to departures about an hour later. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:27:03 GMT

Petition asks bishop to change baptism policy for same-sex couples

A group of Catholics is petitioning the Madison diocese to clarify its stance on the baptism of children with same-sex parents. The group presented a petition with 20,000 signatures at St. Patrick’s Thursday. The group claims Bishop Robert Morlino asked priests to contact the diocese if they got requests to baptize children of same-sex couples so they could look more closely at their applications. They said the church should baptize children regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation. “It just puts an extra burden on them, and I just feel very strongly that process should be eliminated and they should be welcome into the kingdom of heaven, just like anybody else,” said Lois Fritz. The petitioners are asking Morlino to give control back to the priests in those decisions. The diocese issued a statement saying there is no such policy requiring priests to send the bishop baptism applications from same-sex couples.

Published: Fri, 01 Aug 2014 01:13:52 GMT

State Supreme Court upholds Act 10, voter ID, domestic partnership registry

The State Supreme Court upheld a state voter ID law, Act 10, and the state's domestic partnership registry Thursday. In a decision written by Justice Michael Gableman, he ruled that Act 10, the law that prohibits most collective bargaining between the government and public employees, does not violate the state constitution. Read more about the Act 10 ruling Despite the 4-3 ruling on voter ID, the law remains blocked in federal court. Four lawsuits have been filed over the law passed in 2011. The 4-3 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling addressed two that were filed by the League of Women Voters and the Milwaukee branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Read more about the voter ID ruling Justices considered whether that domestic partnership registry violates a constitutional amendment passed in 2006 prohibiting "substantially similar" institutions to marriage. Two lower courts said it does not. The justices upheld the constitutionality of the registry with a unanimous decision. This case spans back to August 2009, when same-sex partners in Wisconsin could join a registry allowing them limited legal benefits as domestic partners. Months later, the conservative group Wisconsin Family Action filed suit saying that violated the amendment prohibiting "substantially similar" institutions to marriage. Read more about the domestic partnership ruling

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:57:46 GMT

2 arrested in connection with string of burglaries

Two 21 year olds have been arrested in connection with a recent string of burglaries and thefts in the Janesville area, according to a release. Police said numerous burglaries and thefts from vehicles have been reported on the north and east sides of Janesville during the past two months. Derek J. Sturdevant, 21, was arrested on tentative charges of burglary, criminal damage to property and three counts of theft for robbing the Stop-N-Go on Monday, according to the release. Sturdevant confessed to the burglary and to stealing from vehicles on Janesville’s east side. Jeremy R. Green, 21, was arrested on tentative charges of receiving stolen property, two counts of felony bail jumping, misdemeanor bail jumping, and possession of drug paraphernalia after an investigation into a string of burglaries and theft from motor vehicles. Officials remind residents to remove valuables from their vehicles and to keep vehicles locked. According to the release, burglars are targeting open garage doors and windows to gain entry. Police said foreign currency was recovered as part of the investigation, and ask if anyone has had foreign money stolen recently to call Det. Kyle Austin at 608-755-3143.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 20:12:57 GMT

Madison teachers' union leader: Act 10 ruling ?morally bankrupt?

Madison Teachers Inc. calls a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision upholding Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining bill “morally bankrupt." The 5-2 decision issued Thursday reversed a circuit court ruling in favor of MTI on the issue of the right for unions to bargain collectively. A statement from MTI Executive Director John Matthews stated the ruling is disappointing, and he accused conservative justices of acting in lockstep in support of Gov. Walker. “The lack of rationale to support their decision is appalling,” he wrote. He said Justice Gableman, who wrote the majority opinion, should have recused himself from the case because groups with a stake in the case contributed to his campaign. Matthews blamed Act 10 for an increase in the number of teachers leaving the profession. The Madison Metropolitan School District said Thursday that contracts are in place for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years, and the district believes it is on solid ground to negotiate those contracts and follow existing agreements.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:48:41 GMT

Madison Metro employees file for discrimination

Four women have filed complaints with the state Department of Workforce Development (DWD), claiming the way Madison Metro hires and promotes employees is unfair to minorities. Along with race issues, the complainants argued the system favors friends and family of management and tolerates people with poor attendance, a history of physically fighting on the job, and drug test failures on their records. “We're not asking you to hire us just because we're black. I'm asking you to hire us because we earned it, we deserved it, and we're qualified,” Soncerethia Clair-Thomas said. Clair-Thomas has been driving Metro buses for 18 years. She recently applied for three supervisor positions. She claims the people put in those positions were white and often had less experience with Madison Metro. In her complaint filed with the DWD, Clair-Thomas said the system “is skewed against black applicants” “We're not good enough to make cuts. We're ignored and we're tired of being ignored,” Clair-Thomas said. Lisa Banks has managerial experience on her resume and said her interviewers labeled her a prime candidate. She said she was passed over for two promotions to supervisor roles. According to her claim, Banks said the process by which people are promoted at Madison Metro “has led to no black operations managers hired in 20 years”. “Something’s got to change, it has to change,” Banks explained. “And may I forfeit my opportunity to go into management with what we're doing, that's OK. I'm advocating for the right person to get in there to be a voice.” Nicole Sampson works the third shift in the garage. The 18-year Metro employee has also tried for higher titles, ones she feels she’s already doing the work for. She said she was overlooked for a supervisor spot with daytime hours, and her Caucasian counterpart got the job instead. “We have got to step up to the plate and get something done. Not to say this is going to do it, but we will try. They can't say that they did not hear us this time. We didn't know. We didn't realize it,” Sampson said. Sampson’s complaint details what she describes as a “hostile work environment” as an African-American woman, including situations where white co-workers thought she was being discriminatory with the way she assigned buses. Sampson also mentioned being the subject of a formal investigation when fellow employees made allegations, and her boss sending emails telling her how to do a job she has performed for more than a decade. Sampson said while there is a number of African-Americans who work at lower positions at Madison Metro, she wants to see more minorities in higher roles at the transit department. “What you don't see, the inside of Metro, does not mirror what the public sees,” Sampson said. “Not at all.” Rukiya Swan called the situation a “hiring circus.” “I kind of wonder at times if we're using terms as ‘equity’ and ‘engagement’ and ‘culture’ as a ploy to make it look good,” Swan said. Swan went for a customer service position last year. In her claim, she said the human resources department at Madison Metro told her she scored second highest on the applicant test. The position was offered to a white woman, who did not perform as well on the test and who had fewer years of experience with the department. “When it came down to it, a couple times, I was even asked not to fight for it, to let my less senior counterpart compete and thrive for that position,” Swan said. Swan continues to clean buses for Madison Metro. The complaints put the four women in a position to eventually sue their employer for discrimination. Before that, they say the state will investigate their claims and possibly moderate. Madison Metro administration said they do not comment on pending litigation. The group stressed the goal is not going to court, but rather to bring about change. The women said they are looking out for fairness in the future. “We see it being, just being boxed in to being a driver or a service worker or a janitor, which is nothing wrong with those positions,” Swan explained. “However, if you want to do more, if you aspire to be more, that should be afforded to you.”  

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:09:51 GMT

Police: Man seen taking backpack from car, cutting cords

Police say a man was arrested on suspicion of theft after a witness saw him take a backpack from a downtown man's car Thursday morning.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:33:13 GMT

State Supreme Court upholds voter ID law

The State Supreme Court upheld Thursday a requirement to show identification in order to vote. In two cases, brought by three organizations, the court held that the voter ID law or Act 23, passed by the legislature in 2011, does not violate the state constitution. The case brought by the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera argued that minorities and those in poverty have a hard time getting access to IDs, and that creates an undue burden that disenfranchises voters. The court ruled Thursday, in a decision written by Justice Patience Roggensack, that "Act 23 does not constitute an undue burden on the right to vote."   But, she wrote, "Payment to a government agency, however, is another story." Roggensack explains that the voter ID law requires that the Department of Transportation cannot charge for an ID card to vote, but that attorneys argued that other documents required to get that ID required a fee. So, Roggensack concluded, the Department of Motor Vehicles she said must use discretion requiring "the issuance of DOT photo identification cards for voting without requiring documents for which an elector must pay a fee to a government agency." A separate case brought by the League of Women Voters case argued that the legislature did not have the authority under the constitution to create a new requirement to vote.  Roggensack, in her decision, disagreed.  She wrote that voter ID, "is a reasonable regulation that could improve and modernize election procedures, safeguard voter confidence in the outcome of elections and deter voter fraud." The League of Women voters responded to the ruling saying the group is disappointed but the group stresses that the law is still blocked by federal injunction. The voter ID law was passed by the Republican legislature and signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker in July of 2011.  It was in place for one spring primary election, but was blocked by a judge and hasn't been in place since. In a release from Walker, he applauded the decision. "People need to have confidence in our electoral process and to know their vote has been properly counted. We look forward to the same result from the federal court of appeals." But, despite the ruling by the state's high court, the law will still not be in effect. A federal judge ruled in April that the law was unconstitutional, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act.  That case is currently under appeal. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen told The Associated Press that he is looking at all options to get that federal court ruling put on hold, so the photo ID requirement can be in place for the November election. He said the state court's decision should help defense of the law in federal court. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said the ruling could potentially lead to fraud. He said it's unclear what the process will be to ensure a person is a legal citizen and who they claim to be.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:59:25 GMT

Man thwarts iPhone thief with punch in face

A man stopped an attempted thief from stealing his iPhone on Madison's west side Wednesday by punching the phone-snatcher in the face, according to a release.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 17:59:54 GMT

Smartphone theft by passing cyclist prompts property security reminder

A bicyclist grabbed a woman's cell phone from her hand as she stood in downtown Madison Wednesday night, according to a release. The reported theft prompted Madison police to remind residents to be aware of their surroundings to prevent similar thefts.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 18:39:06 GMT

Audit questions state pension fund bonuses

Auditors are questioning the $13.3 million in bonuses given to managers of the state's pension fund last year. The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau's report Thursday calls on the state investment board to review its compensation policy and report to the Legislature by the end of the year. The audit says the bonuses handed out last year were the highest ever by the board, resulting in overall compensation to pension fund managers and other employees that was 14 percent higher than the peer median group. Michael Williams, executive director of the Wisconsin Investment Board, says in a written response to the audit that "experience shows that paying for performance has been a success." The bonuses are based on investment performance. The board ended 2013 beating one-, three- and five-year benchmarks.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 21:20:23 GMT

Vos doesn't intend to pursue right to work

Republican state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he does not intend to pursue making Wisconsin a right to work state next session. Vos spoke Thursday after the state Supreme Court upheld the 2011 law known as Act 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers. Vos said he remains a backer of right to work, but he does not think this is the time to try it in Wisconsin. Both Vos and Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they don't know whether the Legislature next year will try to expand Act 10 to cover police and firefighters. Vos said he is open to it, but not advocating for it.

Published: Thu, 31 Jul 2014 18:20:16 GMT