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Court reverses Bear's sentence

Victoria Bear may be coming home in a few days rather than spending four more years in state prison.

Last week an appeals court found a St. Croix County judge exceeded his authority by effectively revoking the former Hudson woman's probation before she began serving a year-long jail term for causing the death of Michael Strauch, Hudson.

Her attorney, James R. Johnson, said Monday that Bear is ready to move to the next phase of her probation, which involves finding a job so she can pay $17,000 in restitution and performing 200 hours of community service.

In the spring of 2008, Bear, 58, pleaded no contest to homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle for causing the death of Strauch Sept. 23, 2007.

On July 2, 2008, Judge Eric Lundell placed Bear on probation for five years and ordered her to serve a year in the county jail. She would have had work-release privileges.

But on July 8, the day before Bear was to report to jail, she was observed drinking with her ex-husband, Peter Bear, at a restaurant in Woodbury, Minn. Police there were called, and Victoria Bear's blood alcohol level tested at 0.13.

Ten days later, Judge Lundell vacated the original sentence and resentenced Bear to five years in prison and five years of extended supervision.

During resentencing, Lundell acknowledged that he didn't have authority to revoke Bear's probation but said the drinking incident constituted a "new factor" and justified resentencing.

Last week Wisconsin's District III Court of Appeals disagreed.

"Once a defendant is placed on probation, he or she is in the custody of the Department of Corrections and only the department can revoke probation," wrote the appeals court.

While finding that the "new factor" analysis used by Lundell didn't circumvent the double jeopardy protections of the state and federal constitutions, the appeals court found Bear didn't defraud the court and could reasonably expect that the original sentence was the one she'd serve.

"Because the court exceeded its authority by effectively revoking Bear's probation, and because Bear had a legitimate expectation in the finality of her sentence, we will grant the ... motion for summary reversal," wrote the appeals court.

Johnson said he received the appeals court decision in the mail Friday.

"I have not talked to Vickie," said Johnson, "But we believe with her having served the last 11 months in maximum security prison that she has certainly been sufficiently punished for having violated the conditions of her probation and she certainly learned a lesson."

Johnson said he doesn't know yet if Bear will be brought back to county jail to serve out the original year sentence or if she will be held in prison for the last few days.

"We're getting close to that year mark," said Johnson, noting that his client has been in custody since last July 8.

He said Bear has addressed her addiction problem and has been involved in group counseling, which has gone quite well.

Michael O'Keefe, supervisor of the Hudson probation and parole office, said his staff was told of the appeals court decision but hasn't received official notification.

Once that happens, he said, the office will make plans to take over supervision.