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Legal Battles Continue Over Sex Offender Home In Pound

The Town of Pound and other rural Marinette County communities may have won their battle to keep sex offenders Jeffrey Butler, 63, and Jerome Litscher, 74, from being moved into a home in a residential area on 7th Road in the Town of Pound with children living nearby. But they may have lost the war.

Butler comes originally from Dickinson County, Michigan, and Litscher comes from Outagamie County. Neither has family or prior residence ties to Marinette County, which is contrary to the state law as it is written. However, Jason Cramm, who heads the DOH program to move these 980 sex offenders into supervised release, maintains if efforts to place them in their home communities are unsuccessful, they can be ordered into facilities elsewhere.

Marinette County is the site of Butler's last sentencing, for perverted actions related to a 10-year-old boy for whom he was baby sitting, and Litscher, a former Boy Scout leader, was sentenced for an assault on a 10-year-old boy during a camping trip in Oconto County. The offenses occurred more than 20 years ago. Each of the men had previously been convicted of multiple sex offenses involving young boys, and had served 10-year prison sentences before being ordered into confined treatment in the state mental health system a decade or more ago. State psychiatrists now say they have shown sufficient improvement to be released into the community.

A "vendor" recently purchased the home in Pound for the purpose of renting it to the Wisconsin Department of Health as a home for sex offenders on supervised release from the state's Sandridge Mental Health Center at Mauston.

Despite recent rulings by Circuit Court Judges Michael Judge in Oconto County and James Morrison in Marinette County that Butler and Litscher cannot be placed in the Pound facility at this time, it appears the dwelling will not go without tenants, and the vendor will not go without the $2,500 per month rent the state reportedly will be paying.

Unconfirmed reports are that a judge in Milwaukee County last week ordered two other known dangerous child molesters to be settled in the home, which is less than 700 feet from the residence of a family with young children. State law prohibits sex offender residences within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, parks, etc., but does not give the same protection to homes of children unless the properties are adjacent. In the Town of Pound, a woodlot owned by another party separates the two residences, and another home where children reside is across the road.

Because the properties are not adjacent, DOH has determined that the house meets the requirements of the law as written. The state Attorney General's office has been asked to rule on whether or not the "adjacent" provision is contrary to the intent of the law, but so far has not issued an opinion.

Meanwhile, the family that lives next door to the planned sex offender residence has started construction of a new home and will be moving away.

In Madison, State Representatives Jeff Mursau and John Nygren, and Senators Dave Hansen and Tom Tiffany are working to get the law changed.

But Mursau said DOH people have warned them if their proposed changes go too far, Wisconsin's supervised release program could face the same fate as its counterpart in Minnesota. There, he has been told the Supreme Court ruled that sex offenders who have served their time in prison deserve to be released in a timely fashion, and ordered them sent back to society without supervision for lack of an alternative.

Meanwhile, Judge Judge on Thursday, April 27 ordered the DOH to procure a home for Litscher in Outagamie County, where he has asked to be in any case. At a scheduling conference in Marinette County Circuit Court on Monday, May 1, Judge Morrison raised numerous legal issues that he expects the DOH to answer before the next court appearance on a residence for Butler, which he scheduled for a full day starting at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 21. Among issues Morrison raised was the legal definition of "facility" as it is used in the legislation related to supervised release of the sex offenders.

The Peshtigo Times has been told 980 sex offenders placed in the community will be on "bracelet" monitoring systems with GPS, and are forbidden to even go out on the porch of their assigned residence without supervision. Supervision is to be provided by the State Department of Probation and Parole and the local Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

If either violates their GPS location, the Sheriff's Department will be contacted immediately and a warrant will be issued. They are expected to get jobs and become self supporting, but cannot leave the confines of their dwelling without an escort.

Probation and Parole Officer Julie Krause, responding to questions from the Peshtigo Times, said HHS will contract with people who will serve as chaperones for these individuals when they go out for shopping, medical care or other purposes, and her agency will work with DHS. "It's a very high level of supervision," Krause said, adding that her department does not have the staff to provide the supervision required for shopping outings, job searches, etc.

Testimony at the court proceedings in Oconto County indicated they will be allowed telephones, and perhaps a computer, but will not be allowed to have internet service.

Judge Morrison in court on Monday raised some questions concerning the definition of "facility," as referred to in the law, and on Wednesday morning the Peshtigo Times was told that either Fond du Lac County or a town in Fond du lac County has filed a lawsuit demanding a definition of "facility." That report was not confirmed at press time.



Judge Morrison Rules"

In Marinette County Circuit Court on Monday, May 1, Judge James Morrison presided over a scheduling conference via telephone with Attorney Evan Weitz representing multiple sex offender Jeffrey Butler, 63, and Prosecuting Attorney Kevin C. Greene for the State of Wisconsin on State Department of Health (DOH) plans to place Butler on supervised release in a home in the Town of Pound. Butler currently is an inmate of the state's Sandridge Mental Health facility in Mauston.

Concerned citizens packed the courtroom. Those present included State Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz, Town of Pound Chair Jerry Heroux, Town of Brazeau Chair Ryan Wendt, and Town of Beaver Chair Dave Bedora, former Marinette County Board Chair Claryce Maedke, and many concerned friends and neighbors of those who live in the vicinity of the proposed sex offender home.

Before proceedings opened, Morrison asked Mursau if he had received a response from the Attorney General's office on his request for a ruling on the state Department of Health argument that homes for placement of dangerous sex offenders can be closer than 1,500 feet from homes of children if the properties are not adjacent. Mursau said he has not. Morrison asked if the Attorney General is obligated to give a ruling when it is requested by a legislator, and Mursau replied, "I would hope so."

Noting lack of seating in the courtroom, Sheriff Jerry Sauve asked if members of the public could sit in the unoccupied jury box, and Morrison said they could.

When the proceedings opened, Morrison stressed that they were only holding a scheduling conference. He said he had not received the report on Butler until Monday or Tuesday of last week, and would need time to study it. He said he had received more than 100 letters on the case, and forwarded copies to the state DOH. "Obviously, this is a matter of some concern," he declared.

He also said he had been told that a judge in Milwaukee County has already ordered that two other sex offenders be placed in the Town of Pound facility, but phone calls seeking verification have not been returned.

"How does that comply with requirements in the law that they be placed in their home county?" he asked.

Greene said if there is a finding that no place can be found in the home county the offenders can be placed on supervised release elsewhere.

Morrison asked if this meant regardless of his decision, Mr. Butler would not have a home in Pound. Greene said Butler has priority, "because he was a resident of Marinette County."

Morrison objected that Butler was not a Marinette County resident, he was a resident of Dickinson County, Mich. Weitz said in fact Butler would prefer to go to Michigan, but Marinette County has the next closest ties with Butler's home residence.

Morrison asked why Wisconsin does not simply send him back to Michigan. Greene said Wisconsin DOH has no authority to set up a supervised release at a residence outside of the state.

Morrison noted a legal requirement that the DOH cannot place these offenders in a "facility" that did not exist prior to 2006. This one did not, because it has just been purchased. Weitz and Greene said this is not a facility, it is a residence.

Morrison said the statutes do not differentiate, and he had found no state law precedents that would clarify the issue.

Greene said the law states "a facility or dwelling," so there are distinct, different meanings.

"I'm going to give you an opportunity to convince me that I am wrong," Morrison declared, adding that he is obligated to follow the law whether he likes it or not. He asked how long it would take them to research the issue. Weitz said he could do it in 10 days.

Morrison also asked if the report he had received in regard to Butler was confidential. Weitz felt there are items that should be redacted. Morrison agreed to hold that report confidential until May 31, by which time Weitz and Greene are to have taken care of the needed redactions.

Morrison said he is asked by the law to rule on several factors involved in the placement. One of his concerns was the proximity of children, and another was the very rural location of the home, in relation to a release requirement that Butler is to find employment.

"Are we setting him up for failure?" Morrison asked. "How is he going to find employment in Pound, Wisconsin when he needs to be driven to and from work."

He said he is obligated to look at all aspects of the release plan for Butler to be sure they are actually workable.

Morrison was concerned that Butler and his attorney had an obligation to prove he was suited for release, but no one was defending or criticizing that report.

"The state has the option of objecting, but I don't believe we are required to," Greene responded.

Both attorneys seemed to be arguing in favor of Butler's release. Greene said the state has already stipulated that Butler should be placed on supervised release, and Morrison commented, "So I have to take that at face value."

As to the plan itself, Morrison commented that of course the DOH people would say it is a good plan, because they prepared it, and added, "I would be surprised if they didn't."

"So how can I get to the truth of this?" Morrison asked. "Normally, I have the benefit of the parties taking opposite positions. How do I get to the nub of this matter?" He told Greene and Weitz due to lack of opposition, "Don't be surprised if I revert to my role as an attorney." He noted the plan doesn't say what will happen if Butler does not find a job, and asked how it will be a service to him if he has to be a prisoner inside of that house. He said the law requires placement consistent with Butler's needs and the needs of the community, and asked for some briefs on that.

Morrison and the attorneys set June 21 as the next hearing date. Morrison said he will require Angie Serwa and the Program Director be present in person, and Mr. Butler also should be present. Greene said he will ask Butler if he wants to, and indicated Butler has concerns about spending the night in the Marinette County jail.

"If he wants to participate meaningfully with you, he will have to be here in person," Morrison told Butler. He said he will provide Greene with a writ for appearance unless Butler wants to waive his right.

Butler was sentenced to 10 years in state prison on Aug. 1, 1995, for his last offense. He has been in custody since. His record indicates convictions, probably in Michigan, in 1980, 1983 and 1989, with one involving a child six years old or under. Butler was born in 1963, so he would have been 17 or 18 years old at the time of his first offense.



Judge Judge Oconto County"

The Oconto County Courtroom of Judge Michael Judge was jammed on Thursday, April 27 with over 57 spectators, most of them obviously upset about a State Department of Health decision that two violent child sex offenders should be placed on supervised release in home in a rural residential area in the Marinette County Town of Pound. Numerous Marinette County town chairmen were present, as was State Rep. Jeff Mursau of Crivitz, who is working to get the existing sex offender release law changed.

Jerome Litscher, the sex offender slated for supervised release, appeared by telephone. State Attorney Kevin C. Greene had a packet of information at least six inches thick on the desk before him, and appeared to be representing the state Department of Health (DOH) in the proceedings. The plan for supervised release had been drawn up by Angie Serwa of the DOH. Atty. Robert Peterson appeared on behalf of Litscher.

Judge Judge noted at one point he had ordered Marinette County Department of Health and Human Services to prepare a plan for Litscher's residence, but said he had never received a response.

Greene testified they had looked at a number of possible residences for Litscher over the last two years, "and this is the only one we've been able to find that meets the state's requirements."

Greene said the state thinks it is good for released offenders to live together, and Litscher and Butler have been found to be compatible. Peterson said his client has completed treatment, "passed all the hurdles, and is ready to come home."

Judge said he received 85 or 90 letters from Marinette County residents, all opposed to the placement, in addition to a petition with more than 120 signatures asking him not to approve the plan.

"Mr. Litscher has been serious child sex offender his entire life," Judge said. His first conviction was for an offense that happened in 1959, when Litscher was 17 years old. His record went on with repeated offenses, time in prison, and then another offense. In 1989, at age 47, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for offenses involving youths aged 12 to 16. He apparently did not serve the 10 years, because in 1997, at age 54, he was convicted in Oconto County Court for child enticement and sexual assault, as a result of a camping trip in Oconto County with a young boy, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He lived in Outagamie County at the time.

His life includes more than 25 years in prison plus 10 years of institutional treatment, but doctors said after all this time h is ready to be released, and have found that he will not engage in sexual activities while on supervised release.

Judge noted there are five properties adjacent to the proposed residence, but only one shares a physical boundary. There are at least 18 children living within 1,500 feet of the home, but none of the properties are adjacent.

Judge noted the five things he is required to consider, with safety of the community being perhaps the most important.

Litscher's attorney said his client would prefer to be placed in Outagamie County, where he has family and a support group. He does not want to live in a rural area, and really has no connection with Marinette County, Judge said. He found too that treatment will be more difficult in a rural area.

He found that the proposed residence in Pound does not meet the treatment needs of Litscher and the safety needs of the community, and ordered the DOH to procure a home for him in Outagamie. The defense attorney said he intends to file a motion requiring the DOH to buy a home for Litscher in Outagamie County, and will file it with the Oconto County Circuit Court for a proceeding to be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 27. There were comments that Judge will be the first judge in the state to hear this type of motion.


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