Wisconsin State Journal

Bembenek appeals murder conviction
Her appeal to the state Supreme Court follows a refusal by the state Court of Appeals to hear her case.


October 4, 2006

The attorney for Laurie Bembenek asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Tuesday to overturn her 1982 conviction, arguing "there remains no more evidence linking her to the murder."

The appeal contends new DNA and ballistics tests show Bembenek is innocent in the 1981 slaying of her then- husband's ex-wife, Christine Schultz of Milwaukee. The state Court of Appeals refused in September to consider the new evidence, saying Bembenek lost her chance when she pleaded no contest in a deal to get out of prison in 1992.

But Bembenek argues the court's decision "renders Wisconsin's DNA statute and its commitment to exonerating the innocent meaningless" for anyone who has pleaded no contest to get more lenient treatment.

"When a defendant acquires new exculpatory evidence that excludes them from the evidence the state previously argued linked them to the crime, and which instead now inculpates someone else in the crime, a prior no contest plea should not be a bar," according to the appeal written by Milwaukee attorney Mary Woehrer.

Wisconsin Department of Justice spokesman Mike Bauer said the agency would offer "no response" to the appeal. The filing comes just two days after dozens of people, including Bembenek, participated in a "Justice for All" rally in Appleton to protest the "standards of honesty and ethics" of the state justice department.

Among the evidence cited by Bembenek in her appeal:

Male DNA found in a vaginal swab of Schultz's body, evidence that was withheld at Bembenek's trial. The new testing also revealed male DNA and the victim's DNA on the murder bullet and male DNA on the murder scene bedding.

Dr. Elaine Samuels, the medical examiner who presided over the case, said she now believes the crime to be a "sexual-assault homicide" and that "the murderer was a male" - echoing eyewitness testimony from one of Schultz's children that the attacker was a man.

New ballistics tests contradicting the "false ballistics match" that was used to convict Bembenek of using her husband's weapon to kill Schultz.

Experts for Bembenek and the state now agree there's no ballistics match between that gun and the murder bullet. And recently uncovered notes from the state Crime Laboratory show "the murder bullet was consistent with test-fired bullets from another suspect's gun."

An affidavit from Gerry Broderick, an investigator hired by Bembenek's former attorney, that prison inmate Joseph Hecht confessed to him in the mid-1980s that he was hired to kill Schultz. Hecht is serving a life term for murdering Carolyn Hudson in front of her children in a 1983 contract killing in her Madison home.

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