Nov 27, 2014

Hope for the Innocent

Who killed Sarah?
Update: "Police clearly had 'tunnel vision' in building a case against Penny, another common feature in wrongful convictions. Witness David Zoromski, who reported seeing a suspicious man standing by the open passenger door of a parked pickup truck exactly where Sarah's body was later found, was told by a Dane County Sheriff's Deputy, 'What you saw is all very interesting, but we have a suspect and it doesn't fit.' The man seen by Mr. Zoromski matched the description of the person Penny said she saw Sarah talking to near the Taco Bell at East Washington Avenue and North Oak Street in Madison, after she dropped her off that night. Police identified him and knew he was a convicted felon with a long history of violence toward women -- but they never followed up on this lead."
- From Who Killed Sarah - To support this innocent woman.
An innocent women, Penny Brummer, sits in the Taycheedah Correctional Institution located just outside Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, convicted of first degree murder in 1994.

One problem among many with the case is that there is no physical evidence connecting Brummer to the murder of Sarah Gonstead, no murder weapon, and no witnesses. And no motive.

The case is an array of contrived theories, conjecture, and unadulterated bigotry predicated upon the fact that Brummer is a lesbian, hence the murderer of Gonstead (Berry and Berry, Who Killed Sarah?).

Penny Brummer is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder after being convicted on circumstantial evidence, a sentence handed down with apparent joy by former Dane County (Wisconsin) Judge Patrick Fiedler, now a partner with Hurley, Burish & Stanton S.C., after several decades of prosecutorial work in service to the Republican Party and his career.

Fiedler should never have allowed the trial to continue with the paucity of evidence presented.

But Fiedler is not known as a human rights activist, just a GOP hack who is making a lot of money over the lives of victims of the sick judiciary.

"They didn't look at (Penny), they just looked at it as let's get another gay person off the street," said Nancy Brummer, Penny's mother (Pabich, WMTV).

A few years back, Madison writer Bill Lueders visited Brummer at Taycheedah.

"Something's got to happen. God's not going to let me sit here for something I didn't do. I feel he's guiding somebody out there to help me," Lueders wrote, quoting Penny Brummer.

Not God, certainly not former Dane County Sheriff Rick Raemisch (1990-1997), now passing himself off as a prison reformer in Colorado (Goode, NYT).

Raemisch used the occasion of WMTV's piece (Pabich) on the Wisconsin Innocence Project's effort (following work by Wisconsin's Innocence Consultants) to exonerate Brummer to offer this lame, conscience-free statement: "We can place the suspect and the victim in the west end of Dane County at the time the suspect says the victim was being dropped off." (WMTV)

That's compelling. Wonder how this logical wizard, Raemisch, sleeps at night.

DNA Testing Ongoing

Fortunately, the Innocence Project is expecting more results of ongoing DNA analysis soon.

Reports WMTV's Pabich: "The DNA results are expected in the next few months. We (spoke) with the foreman of the jury that convicted Penny. He says he didn't want to talk about the situation 20 years ago and doesn't want to now. I did ask him if he still stands by the decision they made 20 years ago. He said that's a really difficult question."

Dane County DA's Office and Cause for Hope

The current Dane County District Attorney is Ismael Ozanne, and the office is now (to my mind) guided by facts and justice.

Ozanne has made public statements that his office will cooperate with the Innocence Project.

This is an unusual commitment by district attorneys in wrongful conviction cases.

In light of the growing prison-industrial complex of American society and case after case of innocents behind bars, I asked Ozanne point blank when he was running for Attorney General, "how much does the imprisonment of an innocent weigh on you?"

Ozanne's response is a source of hope for Penny Brummer: "No prosecutor should want to have innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted stay in prison. If evidence is brought to the attention of the authorities demonstrating that a mistake has been made, the interests of justice demand that the evidence is carefully reviewed and the individual should be released if exonerated. As Dane County District Attorney, I have worked with lawyers from the Innocence Project, and will do so in the future. While these decisions are largely at the discretion of the DAs around the state, I would work with them as attorney general, providing resources and advice in these situations. The ultimate goal of the system is not simply to secure convictions, it is to do justice."

The most recent piece by WMTV did not interview DA Ozanne but if he lives up to the above statement, he would be working with the Innocence Project to review the case against Brummer, and with new DNA evidence free her.

Any decent human being ought to hope for justice; Penny Brummer can only pray and wait.

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