Green Bay Press-Gazette

August 2, 2006 

Charges dropped in Cadigan slayings

Innocence Project helps clear LaBatte in '91 deaths

By Andy Nelesen
Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers

APPLETON — Kewaunee County prosecutors on Tuesday dismissed murder charges against Beth LaBatte, 39, the woman who was once convicted — and imprisoned for 10 years — for the 1991 deaths of sisters Ceil and Ann Cadigan.

LaBatte's case was championed by the University of Wisconsin Law School's Innocence Project. Kewaunee County District Attorney Andrew Naze announced the state's decision to drop the charges as the case was gearing up to go to trial a second time.

The Innocence Project won motions to have evidence from the case re-analyzed using current DNA technology and planned to use those findings at trial.

"The defense case got better and better as the months went by after the new trial was granted," said First Assistant State Public Defender Henry Schultz. LaBatte has been free after relatives posted $112,000 worth of property as bail.

Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Luebke, who heard the original trial, in November granted LaBatte a new trial. The move hinged on the new DNA results that showed that blood on items connected to the Cadigan murders did not belong to LaBatte.

Naze said key witnesses in the case have died and considering the "significant passage of time and the high cost to taxpayers, a successful outcome at a new trial is unlikely.

"We have pursued all available leads in attempting to develop significant new evidence," Naze said. "However, after conferring with the investigators and my staff, I am satisfied that the state would not be able to meet the heavy burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt."

Schultz gave credit to the two lawyers and six students from the Innocence Project. "I've been doing this over 25 years and there's only two or three times I've had a first-degree murder case dismissed," Schultz said.

LaBatte was arrested for the Cadigan murders in 1996 and eventually convicted of two counts of first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of armed robbery for the beating deaths of the sisters, ages 85 and 90, inside their Kewaunee County farmhouse. LaBatte was sentenced to life in prison for each count.

Efforts to reach LaBatte on Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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