Linking Biskupic To Paulus Probe
State Urged To Investigate Biskupic's Handling Of 1995 Homicide Case As Part Of Wider Investigation Involving Paulus.
Monday, May 10, 2004
Dee J. Hall Wisconsin State Journal
It was 1995 and newly elected Outagamie County District Attorney Vince Biskupic had a big case on his hands. Kevin Nechodom, the son, grandson and nephew of area police officers, had been killed in a fight.
Some witnesses were saying the 16-year-old defendant, Greg Kortz, swung a baseball bat at Nechodom only because he was choking another young man. There was also some concern about the accuracy of witness statements regarding the fight, which occurred after Nechodom and his companions followed Kortz and his friends to Kortz's rural home.
Biskupic convened the Outagamie County sheriff's deputies investigating the case. They decided to do something one officer said he had never seen in 23 years of law enforcement: They gathered and destroyed the original police reports and started over.
Former Outagamie County Assistant District Attorney Mike Balskus, who worked the case with Biskupic, said he's certain they were scuttled to help the prosecution.
"This action was an attempt to destroy favorable evidence for the defense," Balskus said. "I've been a prosecutor for 20 years. I've never seen this happen. Never."
Balskus, who now works in neighboring Winnebago County, has asked the state Justice Department to investigate Biskupic's handling of the case as part of a wider probe involving now-disgraced former Winnebago County District Attorney Joseph Paulus.
Paulus, 44, pleaded guilty last month to federal charges of taking bribes to fix cases from 1998 to 2000. Biskupic was deputy district attorney under Paulus before moving to Outagamie County in 1994.
Biskupic, who joined a private law firm after he lost his bid to become Wisconsin's attorney general in 2002, said the issues surrounding the police reports were fully explored by Outagamie County Circuit Judge John Des Jardins.
"The defendant raised all viable issues regarding the police investigation during motions and post-conviction filings," Biskupic said in a written response to questions sent to his Appleton law office. "His requests were found to be without merit."
But Des Jardins ruled that as prosecutor, Biskupic "had the responsibility ... to preserve the report" and that destroying them was not an effort to correct them but to "change them so the defense is obviously not going to find out about it."
Des Jardins ordered Biskupic off the case, and Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski finished the prosecution. An Outagamie County jury found Kortz guilty of second-degree reckless homicide. He was sentenced to 13 years.
One expert called destroying police reports "pretty outrageous" behavior.
"It may be that the early reports are the accurate ones ... and they may raise questions about the accuracy and factualness of the subsequent reports," said Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Destroying the early reports "subverts the search for the truth."
This isn't the first time Biskupic's actions as district attorney have been questioned.
Last year, the former prosecutor was sharply rebuked by the state Ethics Board for striking secret deals with defendants to avoid prosecution in exchange for payments of up to $8,000 to local anti-crime groups and his privately operated crime-prevention fund. Some of those deals have been sent to the state Justice Department, Balskus said.
||Truth in Justice