By Gretchen Schuldt
Somebody in Delbert Pascavis' flat strangled him to death with a bedsheet and wrapped a telephone cord around his neck, waist, and right foot.
There was no sign of forced entry into the house.
Before the night of July 26, 1985, Pascavis was a church organist, a tutor, a man active in the gay community. He was a case worker for Milwaukee County whose job included interviewing potential foster parents.
He was a member of the Bel Canto Chorus, the Felix Chorale, the Neighborhood Block Watch, and the Black and White Men Together, an organization that currently describes itself as a "gay, multiracial, multicultural organization committed to fostering supportive environments wherein racial and cultural barriers can be overcome."
He also was "quite a drinking man," his landlord told police, according to a police report.
Pascavis "was a partier and had lots of different people coming and going at all times of the day and night....," the report said.
He was popular in the neighborhood and never turned anyone away from his house, the landlady told police. If a visitor brought a friend along, Pascavis would welcome that friend as well.
His landlord "also stated that most of his guests were young black males in their twenties," she said.
Pascavis was with a black man the night he was killed, witnesses said. Some later identified that male as Alphonso James, but those identifications were questioned later by the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
Another witness described the Pascavis' companion that night as a black male in his late 20s or early 30s, about six feet, one inch tall and 190-200 pounds.
James was 17, five feet, nine inches tall and weighed 158 pounds.
As soon as his body was found on the morning of July 27, 1985, Pascavis became a homicide case, the property of the justice system.
Soon enough, the life of Delbert Pascavis would be overshadowed in the justice system almost completely in by the next act: the prosecution of Alphonso James.
Next: The confession
By Gretchen Schuldt
Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old, was sentenced to life in prison, and spent 31 years there for a crime he said he did not commit. This is part 2 of James' story. Part 1 is here.
Alphonso James was arrested two hours after the body of Delbert Pascavis was found and about 30 minutes after a man described by his neighbors as mentally unbalanced identified James as the killer.
James remembers the moment well.
"It was 11 o’clock in the morning," he said. "It was hot outside, my mother was in the kitchen cooking, and then, lo and behold, the police just pulled up in front of our house."
They took him into custody.
The next time he was free was 32 years later.
He thought at first his arrest was related to a fight he had with a friend. There was a juvenile arrest warrant out for him related to that incident, and James quickly admitted to his involvement in the stabbing.
At the police station, James said, he still wasn't aware he was in trouble for a murder.
Officers came into the interrogation room "and they would come in and asked me to remove clothes," he said in an interview. "They would get a flashlight and go over my body to see if there were any recent marks or bites and they didn't find anything. So finally they told me 'Well, we'll be right back.' So they removed all of my clothing and left me in the room with nothing."
During James' trial, police denied leaving him naked and said they brought him a change of clothing.
Eventually, James said, "They were questioning me about a murder. I said, ‘Well, I have no idea about a murder' and I told them the truth from day one. They asked me where I was at; I told them everything."
James was the main suspect in a murder because of a phone call to police from a 33-year-old man who dressed in western clothing and was known as "a person who spends a lot of time talking with the kids and is described as 'crazy,'" according to a police report.
"It should be noted that at the time I talked to (the man) he was wearing some type of western chaps that appeared to be vinyl and were black and red in color," an officer said in the report.
The man told police that two children told him that Alphonso James killed the "old man," meaning Pascavis.
An officer spoke to the father of those children and to other children and residents of the neighborhood. "I was unable to find any children in the area that would admit to speaking with (the man) this date relative to the allegations that Alphonzo (sic) James was the person responsible for killing the 'old man,' " the officer wrote.
That same day, another officer identified residents he believed could be capable of a crime like Pascavis' murder. The officer identified two brothers who lived a few doors away from Pascavis' home on N. Booth St. One of the brothers, according to a separate report, had hung out with Pascavis.
But James already was in custody.
Next: Who was Delbert Pascavis?
*Photo courtesy of Hupy & Abraham.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The Wisconsin Justice Initiative and the American Constitution Society Milwaukee Lawyer Chapter are teaming up to refresh WJI's Pot Page with court data from across the state.
WJI, in a previous version of the page, examined felony marijuana cases – possession of marijuana, second offense or greater – in Milwaukee County. That project pretty clearly illustrated that African-American men on the North Side of Milwaukee are disproportionately charged with that crime.
The new page already is uncovering some interesting information. In Milwaukee County, for example, there was one marijuana case filed last year for every 3,292 residents; in the much smaller Ashland County, at the top of the state, there was one marijuana case filed for every 371 residents. In other words, Ashland County law enforcement is much more aggressive in prosecuting marijuana crimes when population is factored in.
Surprisingly, there were just as many women charged – 15 – in Ashland County as there were in Milwaukee County. Those women accounted for 36 percent of the 42 Ashland County cases, but just five percent of the 288 Milwaukee County cases.
Follow along as we look at data from all 72 counties.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The City of Milwaukee, just five months into the year, already is in borrowing mode to pay off court settlements related to police conduct, a financing strategy that increases costs for taxpayers and leaves them with nothing to show for their money.
The city will borrow $2 million to pay the family of a man who died in the back of a squad car, and will borrow another $2.3 million to pay the family of a man who died in jail of an epileptic seizure about 18 hours after telling police he did not have his regular dose of anti-seizure medicine, according to city documents and Budget and Management Director Dennis Yaccarino.
Interest alone could add a million dollars or more to the total price tag over the life of the bonds, depending on their longevity and interest rates.
Ideally, state and local governments use bonds to pay for large capital projects that are expected to last a long time, like roads, bridges, and schools. Borrowing for these types of projects allows governments to spread the costs over decades to ensure that future beneficiaries of the projects share in the costs.
Borrowing for police-related settlements, however, is on the increase not only in Milwaukee, but across the country.
Here, Yaccarino said, "It is a challenge to continue to budget core city services with no growth in revenues and have no ability to set up a funding mechanism for court settlements that eliminates borrowing without impacting those core services."
The city traditionally has relied on a $5 million contingent fund to pay settlements that exceeded the amount budgeted for them, he said.
This year, though, Yaccarino said, snow and ice removal costs are running $4.3 million over budget, melting away much of the contingent fund.
The city's uncomfortable position is not unique to 2019. Budget figures show it is now common for the city to pay out more in damages and claims than the total $5 million budgeted in the contingent fund.
Last year, the city borrowed $6.2 million to cover damages and claims like the police-related lawsuits it needs to borrow for now, according to city bonding documents.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Getting a ticket instead of being charged with a crime might seem like a lucky break, but that ticket can get you added to a criminal database and ultimately hurt future job and housing opportunities, according to Kori Ashley, staff attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin.
If that ticket is accompanied by arrest and fingerprinting the information can go – and sometimes must go – to the State Department of Justice and become part of a Crime Information Bureau criminal background report provided to anyone who asks for it and pays $7, Ashley said.
"I would say to never ignore the ticket," said Ashley, who represents indigent defendants in Milwaukee Municipal Court. "I would treat this ticket just like I would treat a criminal summons I received in the mail because ultimately, if you have been fingerprinted, it will show up on your background report, just like a criminal arrest and charge."
By Gretchen Schuldt
The vehicle of a driver arrested for drunk driving can be searched for other drugs even when an officer has no reason to believe the driver is under their influence or has any in his or her possession, the State Court of Appeals ruled last week.
That is because the offense of operating while intoxicated (OWI) includes driving while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, the District II Court of Appeals panel said.
"It is not unusual for a driver’s impaired condition to be caused by a potpourri of substances—some legal, some illegal, some easily detected, some not—sometimes including alcohol, sometimes not," Appeals Judge Mark D. Gundrum wrote. "All such substances are relevant to proving that the driver is in violation of ...(state statute) due to driving while impaired by either drugs, alcohol, or both."
Gundrum was joined in his opinion by Appeals Judges Paul F. Reilly and Brian K. Hagedorn.
The ruling stems from the case of Mose Coffee, who was convicted in Winnebago County Circuit Court of second offense OWI and possession of marijuana with intent to deliver. The officer who stopped Coffee said that he smelled of alcohol, had slurred speech, and glazed and bloodshot eyes.
Coffee was arrested and officers searched his vehicle. One officer found a bag containing two jars of marijuana, several cell phones, and a package with numerous small plastic bags. Officers found more marijuana in the trunk.
Coffee sought to have the drug evidence suppressed, arguing it was not reasonable for officers to believe they would find OWI-related evidence in the bottom of the bag.
In upholding Circuit Judge John A. Jorgensen's rejection of the request, the appeals court also rejected its own precedent. In the past, Gundrum wrote, the court found that a search was justified if there was a reasonable belief that evidence of OWI would be found during a search. The U.S. Supreme Court has held, though, that a vehicle search is permissible when it is reasonable to believe that evidence might be found in the vehicle.
Previously, Gundrum wrote, "We ultimately relied upon the wrong standard, as Coffee does in this appeal."
He concluded: "We hold as a matter of law that when an officer lawfully arrests a driver for OWI, even if alcohol is the only substance detected in relation to the driver, a search of the interior of the vehicle, including any containers therein, is lawful because it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the offense of OWI might be found."
By Gretchen Schuldt
(Updated April 11 to reflect Lisa Neubauer's concession to Brian Hagedorn.)
Franklin had one ward with a 16.6 percent voter turnout in the April 2 election, the lowest participation rate in any ward in all 18 Milwaukee County suburbs.
Still, that Franklin ward had a greater turnout than 146 Milwaukee wards did.
Fifty wards in the city had turnout below 10 percent. The overall city rate was 22 percent.
Those participation levels can be considered either an embarrassment or a great opportunity for improvement. They certainly helped Brian Hagedorn in his race against Lisa Neubauer for a seat on the State Supreme Court. Hagedorn leads by 5,960 votes and the two may be headed for a recount. (Neubauer conceded to Hagedorn on April 10.)
A chart listing the 50 lowest-turnout Milwaukee wards and a map showing their locations are below..
By Gretchen Schuldt
Circuit Judge-elect Danielle Shelton's big win in Milwaukee on Tuesday gave her a big boost in her decisive victory over incumbent Andrew Jones in the race for the Branch 40 bench, Milwaukee County election records show.
Shelton's margin of victory in the city was 20 votes larger than it was countywide.
Shelton, an assistant state public defender, won the race countywide by 18,243 votes, 71,647 to 53,404. In Milwaukee, she beat Jones by 18,263 votes, 38,414 to 20,141.
Shelton won in 10 of the county's 18 suburbs. Her average suburban victory, however, was 442 votes, while her average suburban loss was 556 votes. Overall, she lost in the suburbs by 20 votes.
Shelton's largest suburban win was in Shorewood, where she won by 1,608 votes and took 70 percent of the vote, the largest vote share either candidate won in the county. Shelton won 66 percent of the vote in Milwaukee, her second biggest vote share.
Her largest loss was in Franklin, where Jones captured 61 percent of the ballots and won by 1,495 votes.
The Branch 40 race did not attract the voter participation that the Supreme Court race between Lisa Neubauer and Brian Hagedorn did. There were 25,053, or 17%, fewer total votes cast for Shelton and Jones than there were for Hagedorn and Neubauer, who also faced off Tuesday.
There were 125,051 votes for the two Branch 40 candidates and 150,104 for the Supreme Court contenders.
By Gretchen Schuldt
(Updated April 11 to reflect Lisa Neubauer's concession.)
State Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer handily outpolled opponent Brian Hagedorn in Milwaukee County, taking 62 percent of the votes in their contest for the State Supreme Court, according to county figures.
That margin of victory did not reflect the statewide outcome. Hagedorn led early Wednesday afternoon in a tight race that may end with a recount. (Neubauer conceded to Hagedorn on April 10.)
The voter turnout was fairly low in Milwaukee County - 29 percent - which likely hurt Neubauer's statewide chances. Big turnouts in the county generally help more liberal candidates, and Neubauer is considered to the left of the very conservative Hagedorn.
The Milwaukee County turnout was 30 percent last year when Rebecca Dallet was elected to the State Supreme Court.
The city of Milwaukee's turnout was an abysmal 22 percent, according to county Election Commission figures.
Fewer than 10 percent of voters turned out in 50 of the city's 327 wards, the figures show. The lowest turnout – three percent – was in Milwaukee's Ward 192, just north of Marquette University. (There also was one ward where none of the five registered voters cast a ballot, but that ward is excluded from consideration here because of its tiny size.)
The highest turnout in Milwaukee was 50 percent in Ward 300, just north of St. Francis on the city's South side.
Only in Shorewood did more than half – 53 percent – of all voters turn out. Shorewood went in a big way for Neubauer, who won a whopping 83 percent of the votes. That is by far her biggest win in the county. In Milwaukee, she was backed by 73 percent of voters, her second-biggest victory.
It was not a Milwaukee County sweep for Neubauer, however. She lost in Franklin, where she received only 39 percent of the vote. She also lost in Greendale (45 percent), Greenfield (44 percent), Hales Corners and Oak Creek (41 percent each), South Milwaukee (48 percent), and West Allis (47 percent).
By Gretchen Schuldt
A judge erred when he said that sperm DNA evidence helpful to the defendant in a sexual assault case was inadmissible under the state's rape shield law, the State Court of Appeals has ruled.
The shield law disallows evidence of a sexual assault victim's sexual history because of its prejudicial effect.
"In general, 'all relevant evidence is admissible,'” the panel said, quoting state law. The case now heads back to Sauk County Circuit Court.
The unsigned decision by the District IV Court of Appeals panel reversed a ruling by Circuit Judge Todd J. Hepler, who barred sperm DNA evidence that excluded defendant Juan L. Walker as the source of sperm found on the victim's bed sheet.
Hepler said the sperm was evidence of "prior sexual conduct" of the victim, Katherine, or someone else, and thus was inadmissible under the rape shield law.
Defendant Walker also was excluded as the source of other, non-sperm DNA evidence, but Hepler also ruled that evidence inadmissible.
Hepler said the absence of Walker's DNA on the sheet "does not necessarily equate to the absence of Mr Walker at the scene. Simply because there is no DNA there on that particular bed sheet does not necessarily mean that Mr. Walker was not there. The presence of another's DNA doesn't equate to the absence of another's DNA either."
The victim, identified only as Katherine, had been drinking before the assault, according to the appeal panel. Two friends helped her after she vomited outside a Lake Delton restaurant. Walker, whom none of the three had met before, stopped, offered to help, and eventually gave them a ride to Katherine's home, according to the appeals panel, which included Appeals Judges Paul Lundsten, Brian Blanchard, and Michael R. Fitzpatrick.
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