Kenosha appeal victory: Court calls for homicide conviction to be vacated

This case provides an example of a successful appeal and the complex nature of trial work.

A case out of Kenosha, Wisconsin, is gaining media attention throughout the country. It involves a husband, wife, a death and allegations of homicide. The case began in 1998 and was most recently decided by the Court of Appeals in the fall of 2015. The state could decide to appeal the most recent decision to the Supreme Court of the United States or retry after making the changes outlined in the appeal.

The case in question

Most recently, the case, State of Wisconsin v. Mark D. Jensen, was appealed by the state to the 7th Circuit. The case stems back to 1998. The controversy revolves around the woman’s cause of death. The defense argued the woman committed suicide and framed her husband for a homicide while the state countered that the death was a homicide and that the husband was responsible. In an effort to prove their case, the state sought to admit a letter written by Mrs. Jensen and given to a neighbor for safekeeping. The neighbor was instructed to bring the letter forward in the event of her demise. The letter states that if anything were to happen to her, her husband "would be [her] first suspect." The state also attempted to admit reports to police that Mrs. Jensen was in fear of her life and believed her husband was plotting to kill her.

The state argued the letter should be admissible as a "voice from the grave." However, the defense countered that defendants "have a constitutional right to face their accusers in court." This right is guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. Ultimately, the court ruled admission of this evidence was an error. Lower courts ruled the error was harmless, but the 7th Circuit disagreed, finding "Wisconsin appellate court’s reasoning read as though it is conducting an evaluation of whether there was evidence to support the verdict, not whether the error in admitting Julie’s letter and statements to the police affected the verdict." In fact, as highlighted in a recent report by Kenosha News, the judge went on to say the "evidence was all circumstantial" and that there "was significant evidence in support of Jensen’s theory that Julie had taken her life, evidence not discussed at all by the Wisconsin appellate court." Ultimately, the court agreed that the conviction should be vacated.

Impact of the case

The case provides a lesson in the complexities of trial, particularly involving admission of evidence. Others who find themselves facing a verdict that they believe is unjust can learn from this case, and move forward with an appeal.

It is wise for those facing an appeal to seek the legal counsel of an experienced appellate law attorney. These legal professionals can guide defendants through the process, working to better ensure their rights are protected. Legal professionals like Rose & Rose, part of the appellate defense team that successfully argued the case which eventually led to a reversal of Mr. Jensen’s conviction in the Seventh Circuit.