In year of big stories, politics was the biggest
MILWAUKEE — Violence and arson on the north side of Milwaukee after the fatal shooting of a black man by police. A big development in the “Making a Murderer” case that so transfixed TV viewers nationwide. A gunman who opened fire on prom-goers in a small northern Wisconsin town.
All big stories, but it was politics that dominated Wisconsin’s year in news from start to finish, with a chaotic presidential campaign that played out bitterly, lurching finally to a finish with a costly recount paid for by a candidate who finished more than 1.3 million votes behind.
A look back:
ALL POLITICS, ALL THE TIME
As a battleground state, Wisconsin was always going to get plenty of attention in the presidential race. But there seemed no end of additional angles. First the state’s influential conservative talk radio hosts banded together to oppose Donald Trump, helping hand Texas Sen. Ted Cruz a primary victory in the spring.
But Trump’s ascendance later touched off a political dance among Wisconsin’s top Republicans. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, of Janesville, and Gov. Scott Walker initially held back their endorsement of Trump, but eventually decided to throw their support behind him. Ryan rescinded an invitation to Trump to a Republican rally in his congressional district in October after crude comments that the presidential candidate had made about women surfaced.
When Wisconsin voters ultimately went for Trump, it was the first time in 32 years the state backed a Republican for the White House. But it wasn’t over: Wisconsin was among three states where the outcome was challenged with a recount request by Green Party nominee Jill Stein and the only one in which the recount was completed due to legal challenges in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Little changed as a result.
Ryan was criticized for his initial reluctance to back Trump, but was easily re-elected in Wisconsin and returned as House speaker. President-elect Trump tapped another political heavyweight from Wisconsin, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, as his White House chief of staff.
Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, seen as highly vulnerable in a rematch with Democrat Russ Feingold, instead was swept up in the Republican wave and won a second term.
In August, a north side Milwaukee neighborhood erupted in two nights of violence following the police shooting of a young black man, Sylville Smith. His death at the hands of a black Milwaukee officer unleashed simmering anger in the Sherman Park neighborhood, with eight businesses burned, other properties looted and several officers and civilians injured. In a rare move, the officer who killed Smith, Dominique Heaggan-Brown, was charged in December with first-degree reckless homicide. Heaggan-Brown had already been fired after he was charged in a separate case with sexual assault.
TWIST IN ‘MAKING A MURDERER’ CASE
The criminal case at the center of the popular Netflix series “Making a Murderer” took a turn when a federal judge ordered the release of Brendan Dassey, one of two men convicted in the death of Teresa Halbach.
The magistrate ruled in August that investigators coerced Dassey, who was 16 years old at the time and suffered from cognitive problems, into confessing to helping his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach at the Avery family salvage yard in Manitowoc County. Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007.
His release appeared imminent until the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago stepped in at the last minute to keep Dassey behind bars while state attorneys appealed a decision which overturned his conviction.
A key court ruling kept two girls accused of trying to kill their classmate in an attempt to please a fictional horror character called Slender Man in adult court. Attorneys for the girls, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser, who were 12 at the time of the 2014 attack, argued they should be tried in juvenile court. An appeals court disagreed and the girls entered pleas of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to attempted homicide in a stabbing that left their classmate with 19 wounds that nearly killed her.
A West Allis man was accused of fatally shooting a woman riding with her family in a car on Interstate 90/94. Zach Hays was also accused of killing his neighbor earlier in the day on May 1.
The state Department of Justice decided against taking Mark Jensen’s case to the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a retrial in Kenosha County, where he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2008 in the antifreeze-poisoning death of his wife, Julie Jensen.
In April, a shooting outside the prom at Antigo High School left the small northern Wisconsin city shaken. An Antigo officer who shot and killed the gunman, Jakob Wagner, said he saw him open fire on the prom-goers. Two teens were injured.