No charges yet in county homicide

A decision on whether to charge an individual for a homicide in Trempealeau County could come this week as Sheriff Brett Semingson says he may never officially release the name of the victim.

Trempealeau County District Attorney John Sacia said he received Friday all the investigation files for the May 15 death. He said he reviewed them over the weekend and could decide this week whether to file homicide charges.

“There’s still review that needs to happen,” Sacia said Monday.

A suspect in the death remains in custody for charges unrelated to the homicide, Semingson said.

Semingson has based his decision to not officially name the victim on the rights bestowed by Marsy’s Law, an amendment to the state constitution passed by voters in 2020.

He said Monday he would be reviewing his decision, “but I don’t think there’s an expiration date on Marsy’s Law.”

Semingson has not cited a specific provision for his decision, but among the law’s provision is one that says a crime victim has the right to “not have his or her personal identifiers . . . used or disclosed by a public official, employee, or agency.” 

The Wisconsin Department of Justice notes, however, that “Authorities cannot create a bright0line rule or policy to withhold all victim records and information.” Whether to release victim information means authorities must balance it with the state’s open records mandates.

Attempting to balance victim’s rights against government openness relies on authorities determining “whether the presumption of openness is outweighed by another public policy interest" according to the Department of Justice.

Attorney James Friedman of Godfrey & Kahn, the law firm that represents the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, said the sheriff’s decision is “an unreasonable application of Marsy’s Law.”

“The public has a right to know the names of crime victims and Marsy’s Law does not say otherwise,” Friedman told the Times. 

An earlier release from the sheriff’s department said the death occurred Highway 53 near County Road TT in the town of Ettrick. Officials had sought any video or images from the area between 7 and 9 p.m. on May 15.

The death was described as suspicious before being listed as a homicide in a May 19 release.

Check for updates. 


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