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Deer harvest lowest in 32 years but no shooting deaths reported; Hayward native expected to be executed in Texas tonight; 12 more state news items

Wisconsin hunters shot their fewest deer in 32 years in the nine-day gun season that ended Sunday.

Officials said this was the safest gun season on record -- no shooting deaths and only three injuries.

According to preliminary numbers released yesterday, the Department of Natural Resources said 191,550 deer were registered statewide. That's down 15% from a year ago, and it's the lowest harvest since 1982 when almost 183,000 deer were taken.

Wildlife officials blamed foggy weather on the season's opening weekend, a lower deer population in northern Wisconsin due to the brutal winter of a year ago, and a ban on shooting antlerless deer in all or parts of 19 counties to try to boost populations for the future.

Almost 609,000 deer licenses were sold, down 4% from a year ago despite the state's efforts to encourage first-time hunters with lower license fees.

DNR officials did not blame "deer czar" James Kroll. Gov. Scott Walker brought him in to try to improve the hunting culture, and there were several rule changes that Kroll, a group of trustees and the Natural Resources Board endorsed for this year.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said hunters were excellent in learning the new rules while passing their traditions on to youths and first-time hunters.



Hayward native expected to be executed in Texas tonight

After they ran out of state appeals, attorneys for Hayward native Scott Panetti asked the U.S. Supreme Court to spare him from his execution that's scheduled for 6 p.m. today.

Panetti, 56, was diagnosed with mental health problems before he was convicted of killing his ex-wife's parents in 1992 in Texas. However, no court has found him to be insane or mentally incompetent to go through his criminal and appeal proceedings.

Yesterday Panetti's lawyers told the justices that there would be no retribution or deterrence in putting their client to death because he's too delusional. Defense lawyers have asked for a new round of competency tests, a request that's before a federal appeals court.

Attorneys Kathryn Kase and Greg Wiercioch have told the justices that Panetti's execution would "offend contemporary standards of decency." They've asked the Supreme Court to look at the broader question of whether it's cruel and unconstitutional to execute the mentally ill.

Panetti is scheduled to die from lethal injection at the Texas state prison in Huntsville.


Northern snowmobile trails not open yet

After some big snowstorms last month, you'd assume that snowmobile trails are wide open in northern Wisconsin -- and you'd be wrong.

Oneida County Forester John Bilagon said it's not just the snow that dictates when the trails can open. First of all, private landowners insist that the trails not open until after the muzzle-loader deer hunt that began on Monday. Then there are property easements and other legal paperwork. Finally, there must be an adequate mix of snow cover and frozen conditions.

When you add all that up, Bilagon said the earliest opening date for snowmobile trails in Oneida County is Dec. 12. Snowmobile clubs in neighboring Vilas County are also hoping to open their trails that day.

Bilagon said it might take a little more work this year to prepare the trails because the snow has created some marshy wet areas that need to be packed down.

In the meantime, officials caution snowmobiles not to go on lakes because they may not be adequately frozen yet.

--Natalie Jablonski, WXPR, Rhinelander


PSC hopes to build $550 million gas-fired turbine near Kaukauna

A northeast Wisconsin utility will seek state approval to build a new natural gas-fired turbine at an existing plant near Kaukauna.

The Wisconsin Public Service Corporation said yesterday it plans to build a third turbine at the Fox Energy Center that would generate 400 megawatts -- enough electricity to power about 300,000 homes.

A spokesman said the cost would be around $550 million, and a more detailed cost estimate would be filed with the utility's application that's expected next month.

Wisconsin utilities are looking to natural gas facilities to replace older coal-fired boilers at a time when the federal Environmental Protection Agency is mandating that states reduce greenhouse gasses from coal plants.

Even so, Kira Loehr of the Citizens Utility Board said a more statewide approach is needed to determine what power plants can be used before new ones are approved. She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin's rates are already the second-highest in the Midwest. Why would we want to spend another half-billion dollars if we don't need to?"


Puppy mill owner won’t be charged with neglect

No charges are expected against the owner of a puppy mill in west central Wisconsin.

Authorities said a facility in Jackson County failed a state inspection, and the owner agreed to give up 28 dogs instead of making improvements and meeting state care standards.

The dogs ended up with the neighboring Clark County Humane Society.

Humane Society officials said all of the dogs were kept in small cages that were filled with feces and urine. Many have bad teeth and other health issues. At least one is pregnant. Some are timid and not used to interacting with people.

The Humane Society is having a veterinarian examine the animals, and officials are working to get them better so as many as possible can be adopted.

In 2011, Wisconsin toughened what was reported to be among the nation's loosest regulations of puppy mills. Facilities with 25 or more dogs must be licensed to make sure they're meeting health regulations.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


GOP lawmaker plans to introduce right-to-work bill

A Republican state lawmaker vows to introduce a right-to-work bill in the next session.

If it gains support, a Democratic leader predicts massive protests similar to those in 2011 when most public union workers lost almost all their bargaining privileges.

Delafield Rep. Chris Kapenga told the AP he'll speak with his fellow Assembly Republicans, and make the case for a right-to-work bill before he introduces it. He's not sure when that will happen, but he called the concept a "very important piece of continuing growth in this state."

Democratic Minority Leader Peter Barca said he hoped the bill wouldn't get to the Assembly floor for a vote. If it gains steam, Barca said protests are sure to follow.

“To further polarize the state at this time would be extremely harmful,” said Barca. “I would certainly hope they would not want to put the state through that.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos supports the right-to-work concept in which private sector employees would not have to join unions or pay union dues to be employed.

On Monday, conservative Lorri Pickens announced a new group to push the measure, saying it would give workers freedom of choice.

The state's AFLCIO said a right-to-work law is an effort by corporations to drive down wages and "erode" the middle class.

Vos has said he would not push such a bill himself. Gov. Scott Walker's office continues to say it has more urgent things to handle, like cutting taxes. However, Walker won't say if he'd sign a right-to-work bill if his fellow majority Republicans pass it. He has said a number of times he wants to avoid another bloody battle.


Asthma patient dies after officer stops speeding car

The Chippewa Falls police chief is defending an officer who stopped a speeding car with a passenger who had an asthma attack and had them wait for an ambulance to take the passenger to a hospital where he died.

Chief Wendy Stelter told WEAU TV in Eau Claire that the officer followed the department's standard procedure.

The officer stopped the vehicle after seeing it go through a red light last Sunday. The female driver yelled that her passenger – 29-year-old Casey Kressin -- was having an asthma attack and had to get to an emergency room.

The officer called for paramedics who arrived six minutes later. They took Kressin to a Chippewa Falls hospital where he died. An autopsy was scheduled in St. Paul Minnesota.

Kressin's family would not comment.

Stelter said it's sad that the family lost Kressin while the officer tried keeping him calm as help arrived. But as the chief told WEAU, "The officer feels that he did what he should have done, and I support him in that.”


Vandal drives $500,000 excavator off Lake Michigan bluff

Police in suburban Milwaukee said somebody apparently stole a 20-ton construction vehicle and drove it off a bluff into Lake Michigan.

Oak Creek street employees were working an improvement project at the bluff when they saw the partially submerged vehicle Monday.

Police said the Komatsu excavation vehicle was driven for about 200 yards when it fell 60 feet from the bluff into Lake Michigan. Construction crews and the state Department of Natural Resources plan to remove it today.

Police found the vehicle with icicles hanging from the treads. The unit was valued at $500,000.

Oak Creek Police Chief John Edwards said officers are looking for the person responsible. The suspect will most likely face felony charges due to the vehicle's damage, diesel fuel that was spilled in the lake and damage to the bluff.


Missing Marathon County man found safe

A missing central Wisconsin man is safe and sound.

Marathon County authorities said Andrew Meyer, 33, apparently crossed the backwaters of Lake DuBay, and they feared that he might have fallen in.

However, somebody spotted the man walking on Hwy. 34 and called deputies just after 10:10 last night -- a few minutes after two Wausau TV stations reported the disappearance on their 10 p.m. newscasts.

The family reported him missing late yesterday morning. They were especially concerned that Meyer walked off without the medications he needs to control his mental health issues.

Sheriff's lieutenant Randy Albert said Meyer appeared to be in good shape. He was taken to a hospital to be checked out.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Convict claims showing his teeth violated his rights

The State Supreme Court is expected to decide today if a judge violated the rights of a jail inmate by making him show a jury his platinum teeth to verify testimony against him.

The jury convicted Ramon Gonzalez of helping other Milwaukee County Jail inmates beat prisoner Frederick Brown in 2006.

During his trial, a detective said a man with platinum teeth was involved in the beating, and the officer believed Gonzalez has those unique teeth.

Circuit Judge William Brash then ordered the defendant to show his teeth to the jury. Gonzalez said the order violated his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The state's First District Appellate Court did not buy that claim, and it upheld the man's conviction last year. Gonzalez, who is now 35, appealed to the state's highest court. He was convicted in 2008 on a felony charge of battery by prisoners.


Three sexual assaults reported in Marquette dorms

Three sexual assaults were reported last month in dormitories on the Marquette University campus, just west of downtown Milwaukee.

The school said yesterday that two of the incidents involved the same male student and female victim on Nov. 21 and 22. The woman contacted campus police Nov. 23, and she was checked out at a hospital.

The third dormitory sex assault involved two other students on Nov. 15.

Under a recently adopted policy, Marquette contacted Milwaukee city police. Officials said neither of the women wanted charges pressed.

In the last school year, seven sexual assaults were reported on the Marquette campus. Spokesman Brian Dorrington says it's a sign that the school's sexual assault awareness efforts are having an effect.


New contract guarantees Kenosha casino wouldn’t mean losses to Potawatomi

Under a new agreement signed yesterday, the state would guarantee that the Potawatomi tribe does not lose money from a proposed competing casino in Kenosha.

However, the Walker administration's attorney on the matter says the governor does not have the power to create annual spending obligations like that. Lance Boldrey told a U.S. Interior Department official the deal might violate the state constitution.

The new agreement is part of the tribe's state gaming compact and would require arbitration to determine the final payment arrangement.

The Menominee has offered to cover the Potawatomi's losses from its new Hard Rock resort, but the state would still be responsible for making sure the tribe gets paid.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs gave its endorsement last year to the Kenosha casino. It would be about 30 miles south of the Potawatomi's lucrative gaming house in Milwaukee where the tribe just opened a new hotel a few weeks ago.

The Kenosha project has been in Governor Scott Walker's lap ever since, and he has until Feb. 19 to either approve or deny the off-reservation casino request.

The governor has said he won't approve it unless all 11 Wisconsin tribes give their blessings.

The Potawatomi have opposed it for years while protecting their gaming monopoly in Wisconsin's largest metro area. The tribe's attorney general says it still opposes the project. The Ho-Chunk tribe also says it remains opposed.

In a statement, the Menominee tribe said it was pleased with the governor's arrangement, calling it a major hurdle to the Kenosha casino's final approval.


Iron River man gets life sentence for killing parents

A northern Wisconsin man is expected to die in prison for killing his parents a year ago this Sunday.

Bayfield County Circuit Judge John Anderson sentenced Jim Crain Jr., 45, of Iron River to 50 years behind bars yesterday. If he lives to 95, Crain would be released under extended supervision for up to 20 years.

He admitted killing 79-year-old Jim Crain Sr. and his 76-year-old wife Eunice last Dec. 7 at the couple's apartment in Iron River. Authorities found the defendant with stab wounds to his neck and wrists and with a blood-stained butcher knife close by.

In late September, Crain struck a plea deal with state prosecutors and pleaded guilty to two reduced counts of second-degree intentional homicide. Three other charges were dropped -- including battery to authorities and not complying with an officer while in custody.

Despite the plea bargain, the state recommended a de-facto life sentence of up to 40 years behind bars. Judge Anderson extended that by ten years, saying he intends Crain to have a life sentence.


Woman burns to death after dropping cigarette in van

A Milwaukee woman burned to death after she dropped a cigarette in a parked van that ignited some blankets.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner's office said yesterday that Mary Turek, 68, died Nov. 25.

Officials said she was a smoking a cigarette while resting under a sleeping bag, and she accidentally dropped it and started the fire. Turek was in the van while waiting for her husband to change locks at a nearby building.

The medical examiner said she has burns on 40% of her body.