By Gretchen Schuldt
A man who committed at least two felonies as he impregnated his first cousin and then largely ignored the resulting son is not entitled to any of that son's estate, the State Court of Appeals ruled this week.
The unsigned ruling means that Marcus Crumble will not share in the $1.4 million the estate of Brandon Johnson received last year to settle a case with the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex stemming from the 25-year-old's death in 2012.
Johnson died from a blood clot that moved to his lungs. His roommate told investigators that Johnson asked for help the night before, saying he could not move his legs. Staff members thought he was faking it and refused.
Crumble had minimal involvement with his son during his lifetime, a three-judge panel said in an unsigned opinion upholding a ruling by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Borowski. The panel included Appeals Judges Joan F. Kessler, Kitty K. Brennan, and JoAnne F. Kloppenburg.
Crumble "had little, if any contact with Brandon before Brandon's college graduation," the opinion said. Crumble moved to California when Johnson was 5 and, while Crumble suspected he was Johnson's father, that wasn't confirmed until Johnson was 17 and his mother, Alicia Johnson, requested a DNA test.
Crumble was subsequently ordered to pay child support, which he did until Johnson was 18. Crumble also went to his son's funeral and paid for funeral expenses.
Alicia went to court to prevent Crumble from inheriting. She argued that Crumble abandoned Marcus Johnson and so under state law was not entitled to a share of the estate.
Borowski ruled that the statute did not apply because Brandon Johnson was not a child when he died. Borowski also ruled, though, that allowing him to inherit a share of the estate would unjustly enrich Crumble.
Crumble was 20 and Alicia was 15 when she conceived Brandon.
"Under the tragic facts and circumstances of this case, including the fact that Mr. Crumble committed both statutory rape and incest, this Court will not allow a six figure windfall to be awarded to Mr. Crumble," Borowski said.
Crumble appealed, but the three-judge panel rejected his argument.
"To allow Marcus to retain a benefit conferred upon him by the estate of the son he barely acknowledged would violate both logic and the basic principles of fairness," the panel said.
By Gretchen Schuldt
Alphonso James kinda sorta confessed to murder.
At least he signed a paper on which a confession, written by a police detective, appeared.
James was 17 at the time, in 1985. An evaluation done by a clinical psychologist after his arrest for allegedly killing Delbert Pascavis put James' IQ at 75, considered borderline.
A Department of Health and Human Services evaluation after his conviction said this about James: "Alphonzo's (sic) Stanford Achievement Test scores indicate the possibility of functional illiteracy....A GED (general equivalency degree) may be grandiose."
At the time he signed the paper, he had been in custody for more than seven hours and was questioned without a lawyer. James says for part of that time the police took his clothes and left him naked. Police officers at James' 1986 trial denied that.
James quickly repudiated the confession and said, as he had earlier, that he did not kill Pascavis. Trial testimony indicates that police questioning of James was, at best, of highly questionable thoroughness. More on that later.
The police interviews leading to the alleged confession were not recorded. Police in those days objected strongly to the very idea.
False confessions, especially among the young, are not unusual. Of 130 murder convictions reversed on DNA evidence as of 2018, 81, or 62 percent, involved false confessions and 40, or 31 percent, involved eyewitness misidentifications, according to the Innocence Project.
When he signed the confession, James testified, "I was dizzy because I had a headache and stuff. I just got tired and I was hungry and I was sleepy because I haven't had no rest all that day."
There is no doubt that Alphonso James signed that paper.
"They start asking me did I do it," James testified at his trial. "I said no, I don't know nothing about it....(They said) they had fingerprints of me. I said I don't think. I said I know you couldn't have no fingerprints of me."
Witnesses testified they saw a Black man get into Pascavis' red car the night of the murder, try unsuccessfully to start it, then leave.
James' prints were not in the car.
Pascavis was seen the night he died sharing a bottle of whiskey with a Black man. Police found a whiskey bottle in Pascavis' apartment; There were prints on it that did not belong to Pascavis and did not match James'.
There were, in fact, no fingerprints connecting James to the crime.
"I told them after they just kept on asking me the same questions over and over, they said they wouldn't take no for an answer; so, I said, 'Well, if ...y'all said I did it, I did it.' " – Alphonso James
By Gretchen Schuldt
It is fine and dandy for police to lie to and deceive a cognitively and socially challenged man in circumstances deliberately designed to ensure he was not entitled to a lawyer during questioning, a State Court of Appeals panel has ruled.
Lying and trickery are tactics "common in law enforcement interviews of criminal suspects," Appeals Judge Mark D. Gundrum wrote in the decision, which was joined by Appeals Judge Lisa S. Neubauer.
"Were we to follow (defendant John) Finley's apparent suggestion that law enforcement should be limited to simply accepting a criminal suspect’s first-response denial to a one-time asked, open-ended question of 'Did you sexually assault your niece?' law enforcement may as well simply be precluded from questioning suspects altogether," Gundrum said.
Appeals Judge Paul F. Reilly, in an angry dissent, called the police tactics "coercive and improper."
"Being a judge is a noble position," Reilly wrote. "Being a law enforcement officer is a noble profession. There is something ignoble, however, in charging a person with a crime if that person lies, cheats, or fabricates statements or evidence to the government during an investigation, but if a law enforcement officer does the same, we consider the confession reliable. In life, we do not trust a liar or a deceiver, yet we are imposing that character trait upon our police. Having authorized dishonesty, we must be prepared to accept dishonest results."
Finley, now 41, was convicted of sexually assaulting his nine-year-old niece, identified as C.P. in court records, by touching her breasts and vagina under her clothes. Walworth County Circuit Judge's Kristine E. Drettwan in November 2016 sentenced Finley to 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision.
While Whitewater police were investigating the matter, the girl's mother, who is Finley's sister, said that C.P. had autism and attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder and that she was affectionate and liked to hug people.
C.P.'s mother also told Police Officer Saul Valadez that Finley "has the mental capacity of a 12- year-old" and “socially functions at a first-grade level.” A doctor who evaluated Finley found he had an IQ of 72, not disabling but lower than 97% of the population.
During his questioning, police got Finley to admit to putting his finger in C.P.'s vagina –something the girl never said he did.
C.P. made her allegations against her uncle to her therapist, whom she was seeing for behavioral problems and sensory issues, according to a defense brief by attorney Ellen Henak.
By Gretchen Schuldt
The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee slashed by 91 percent Gov. Tony Evers' proposed capital budget for the Department of Corrections.
The committee approved a $24.2 million capital budget for the Corrections Department, down $234.8 million from the $259 million Evers proposed.
The bulk of the JFC's cut – $225 million – came from wiping out the proposed budgets for juvenile corrections regional facilities ($115 million) and proposed county-run secure juvenile facilities ($100 million).
The committee also killed new inmate housing for Taycheedah and Jackson Correctional Institutions, budgeted by Evers at $5 million and $10 million, respectively. Funding for a new restrictive housing unit at Lincoln Hills / Copper Lake was reduced from $10.3 million to $500,000.
The committee retained the $8.1 million Evers proposed for heating and ventilation improvements at the Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility, and $10.6 million Evers proposed for a new health services unit at the Stanley Correctional Institution.
JFC also added $5 million in spending to begin work on replacing the Green Bay Correctional Institution.
The Legislature, in the wake of the scandal surrounding the gross mistreatment of youths at the two juvenile prisons, voted to close them. They are supposed to eventually be replaced by a new state-run juvenile prison and county-run secure residential facilities.
Evers said this week, however, that meeting the 2021 goal to build the new facilities may be impossible.
We are through 13 of 72 counties in our review of marijuana charges filed in Wisconsin last year, but it is already clear that marijuana laws are unevenly enforced throughout the state.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, for example, filed one criminal case containing a marijuana charge for every 3,292 county residents, by far the lowest charging rate in the state thus far; on the other end of the scale, Burnett County filed one pot case for every 169 residents, the highest charging rate.
These aren't the only disparities we're finding. Follow along as we document the wildly erratic enforcement of cannabis laws in Wisconsin.
Additional data for each county is posted on The 2019 Pot Page and we'll be updating and expanding our charts on this blog.
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
"Walker's judges" is our effort to present information about former Gov. Scott Walker's appointees to the bench. The information is taken from the appointees' own judgeship applications. While Walker has left office, WJI will continue to profile his appointees who are still in office. We also will profile Gov. Tony Evers' judicial appointees.
Name: Maureen Morris Martinez
Appointed to: Racine County Circuit Court
Appointment date: Dec. 4, 2018, elected to a six-year term in April 2019
Law School – Marquette University Law School
Graduate School – University of Illinois – Urbana
Undergraduate – St. Mary's College of Notre Dame
Marshall University, Huntington, W.V.
Recent legal employment:
January 2017 - present – Deputy district attorney, Racine County District Attorney's Office
February 1997 - January 2017 – Assistant district attorney, Racine County District Attorney's Office
State of Wisconsin
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin
Racine County Bar Association
Legal experience as an advocate in criminal litigation, civil litigation, administrative proceedings: Assigned to a sensitive crime caseload that includes homicides and sexual assaults. Previously directed children in need of protective services for 15 years. Involved in administrative and personnel matters.
Number of cases tried to verdict or judgment: Jury, 300; non-jury, no answer; arbitration, no answer; administrative bodies, no answer.
Cases on appeal: I have litigated a number of cases on appeal.
The application asks for the names and case numbers of the appeals and Martinez listed three.
Three most significant cases: Martinez did not list specific cases and did not give the requested case numbers and citations.
By far the most important cases that I have litigated have been the termination of parent rights cases. They are not important as to the legal issues, but more so for the individual children and families that are affected.... I have conducted countless termination of parental rights trials and was successful in them all.
My work with the Veteran's Court Treatment Team is also very significant. Through this court's work and the very hard work put in by the veterans, we have literally brought veterans back from the brink of despair.
Previous runs for political office: None.
Position or involvement in judicial, non-partisan, or partisan political campaign, committee, or organization:
Supported Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson in two campaigns. Both times I was on her campaign committee and participated in the "boots on the ground" duties of campaigning. During her campaign for district attorney I coordinated the letters to the editor campaign. I also spent countless hours with and on behalf of Tricia "working the room" for her.
All judicial or non-partisan candidates endorsed in the last six years:
Judge Wynne Laufenberg
Judge Robert Repischak
District Attorney Patricia Hanson
Professional or civic organizations, volunteer activities, service in a church or synagogue, or any other activities or hobbies that could be relevant or helpful to consideration of the application:
Tutor for middle school students at John Paul Academy
Former Board president and Board member, YWCA in Racine
Member, Racine County Child Death Review Team
Member, Multidisciplinary Child Abuse Investigation Team, Racine County
Member, Drug Endangered Child team for Racine County
Former member of All Saints Health Care Systems, member of the Physicians Activities Committee
Previous member and co-chair of the Racine County Family Violence Community Coalition.
President of the PTA for Holy Name School
Describe any significant pro bono legal work in the last five years: Pro bono work not allowed due to her position.
Why I want to be a judge –
My ambition within my law career has been a slow progression. When I began law school in the fall of 1992,1 had (redacted) and a (redacted). My husband had a demanding career as an (redacted) and I was leaving a career that I loved, school social work. I felt a calling however and I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be a lawyer. I studied at my kitchen table and took the entrance exam and was accepted by Marquette University Law' School. With (redacted) children at home, Marquette was the only school I could attend and I started law school.
As hard as it was I LOVED THE LAW. I loved everything about law school, I had previously set as a goal for myself to be an autonomous life-long learner; what better way to do that then be a lawyer as the law is ever-changing.
I also went to law school with the ambition to become a prosecutor.... I absolutely love litigation; one of my favorite places is the courtroom.
In my efforts to be an autonomous life-long learner, as comfortable as I am as a prosecutor, I believe I am ready to take the next step and explore new areas of the law as a judge. I know I have the knowledge, skills and judgment to be a fair and impartial judge. I think I have an excellent reputation within the legal community as an honest, ethical, hard-working and talented attorney. I am always ready to listen, however, I never waiver from my cannon (sic) of holding people accountable for what they do.
The fact that this father was unaware of the existence of this child until the government informed him is not a reason to excuse his lack of concern for his child. ... – Racine County Circuit Judge Maureen Morris Martinez
The Joint Finance Committee's recommendation to increase the pay of private lawyers representing indigent clients is a good first step but more needs to be done, the Wisconsin Justice Initiative said Wednesday.
"The $70 per hour recommended by Joint Finance is much better than the $40 the private lawyers are getting now, but it's still not enough," WJI Executive Director Gretchen Schuldt said. "The amount, at minimum, should be indexed to inflation."
The $40 rate is the lowest in the nation, and is not enough to cover the average lawyer's overhead.
The State Public Defender's Office appoints lawyers when its own caseload is too great, or when it has a conflict. Lawyers are increasingly refusing to take those SPD appointments because the low pay means they lose money on the cases. The situation is especially dire in rural counties, where defendants in criminal cases can sit in jail for extended periods because SPD cannot find lawyers to represent them.
The proposed increase would be the first in decades, and it is entirely possible that without indexing, it will be another several decades before private lawyers see another pay bump, Schuldt said.
"We applaud what Joint Finance did," Schuldt said. "Just not as loudly as we would like."
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.
Alphonso James was arrested for murder in 1985 when he was 17 years old. He says he didn't do it, and there are serious, serious questions about the case.
There is no question, though, that James was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.
He actually spent 31 years there. He was sentenced in February 1986, when he was a very young man; he was paroled in February 2017, no longer so young and still insisting he did not kill anyone.
Today he is engaged to be married, he is working, and he is contributing to the community. He is especially involved in working to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to successfully return to the community.
So who deserves second chances? Alphonso James, sentenced to life, made it out of prison, at least part way. Because he is on parole, he remains under the tight control of the state.
Others sentenced to life as children, now in their thirties are forties, are still behind bars. Some may never get out, no matter what they do or how much they have changed since their arrests.
Innocent or not.
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