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Cold slows St. Croix bridge work just a bit; Child molester sentenced to 145 years in prison; More state news

In spite of the cold weather, construction continues on the new St. Croix River bridge near Hudson.

Tugboats have moved a growing amount of ice from the river this week so crews from the Sauk County firm of Edward Kraemer and Sons can finish installing the pier foundations for the new four-lane bridge. They're working 24-7, and they expect to be done by Christmas. Kraemer will get a $1.4 million incentive bonus if it finishes by Jan. 20. Crew leaders say this week's sub-zero cold has slowed them down a little.

Next week workers from Lunda and Ames Construction will start driving piles on land for the actual four-lane driving surface. Temperatures are expected to be a bit warmer by then.

Meanwhile, the ice tugboats have put a damper on snowmobiling and ice fishing in the immediate area of the St. Croix River. Warning signs have been put up at several places to keep off the ice. A tugboat pilot said snowmobilers should watch for ice heaves further away.

The new bridge is expected to open in 2016.


Child molester sentenced to 145 years in prison

A judge in Racine sentenced a man to 145 years in prison for molesting six children and making videos of the assaults.

Alexander Richter, 30, smirked and smiled as Circuit Judge Timothy Boyle admonished him. The judge said the prosecution's recommendation for 80 years in prison was not long enough.

Richter did apologize, saying his words could do nothing to undo the damage he caused to his victims -- boys and girls ages 2 to 12.

Boyle said the depravity of the crimes deserved a longer sentence than the state proposed. Richter struck a plea deal and was convicted on four related child sex assault charges. Forty-five other counts were dropped.

Richter called one of his videos "Monster Unleashed." Authorities said he volunteered to babysit children of his fellow classmates at Gateway Technical College. When he had sex with the youngsters on camera, the kids begged him to stop. Police seized almost 200 pornographic photos and 23 videos from his apartment.


Wisconsin joins events to place wreaths on veterans’ graves

Ceremonies will be held tomorrow at nine places in Wisconsin where wreaths will be laid at the graves of those who died while serving their country.

The ceremonies are part of a program called "Wreaths Across America." It started 11 years ago when a company in Maine had wreaths left over after the holidays, and its owner wanted to place them on graves at Arlington National Cemetery as an additional way to honor our fallen troops. By 2008 every state had at least one wreath-laying ceremony.

Tomorrow the cemetery at the State Veterans Home in Waupaca County will have one of Wisconsin's largest events. Jim Campbell of American Legion Riders said over 1,200 wreaths will be laid at King tomorrow. The Riders’ goal is to have a wreath for all of the nearly 7,000 veterans buried there.

The Wisconsin Korean War Memorial at Plover will also have a ceremony at the same time tomorrow. So will state and local cemeteries at Madison, Milwaukee, Union Grove, Spooner, La Crosse, Saukville and Barneveld.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau


Hearing held on officer-involved-deaths investigations

Survivors of suspects killed by police officers asked state legislators yesterday to require outside agencies and a state review board to investigate those deaths.

The Assembly's Criminal Justice Committee held a public hearing on the measures. Sister Bay Republican Garey Bies introduced the bill after seeing police agencies clear their own officers in several high-profile deaths in recent years.

Ameila Royko Maurer said her trust in law enforcement was destroyed after seeing how Madison police dealt with the death of her roommate, Paul Heenan, a year ago.

Adam Gerol, who heads the Wisconsin District Attorneys Association, said there's already lots of oversight in police-involved deaths.

Other authorities said they would support making outside agencies investigate the deaths, but they pointed out problems with having a state review board recommend charges. Jim Palmer of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association said it creates a "bureaucratic monster where one is unnecessary."

Committee chair Joel Kleefisch said amendments might be considered to address concerns brought up during the hearing.


Lock your doors, says former sheriff who was almost burglarized

Former Dodge County Sheriff Todd Nehls says he'll never leave his house unlocked again after a thief broke in and his son -- a new deputy -- caught the suspect red-handed.

Charges are expected today against a 45-year-old Beaver Dam man.

Nehls said the suspect entered through an open door in the garage on Wednesday and claimed he was there to install a surround-sound music system. Nehls' son Taylor was off duty when he stopped at his dad's house in Fox Lake and caught the man inside.

If that didn't happen, the former sheriff said the crime might not have been noticed right away. Nehls said it's common for daytime burglars to take only small amounts of things in their first visits when they know that nobody would be home and the thefts may not be noticed. They could return days or weeks later to steal some more.

Nehls said you should take it seriously if you have an "eerie feeling" that someone's been in your house. Ironically, he said a tenant of one of his rental properties in Fox Lake was also burglarized, a couple hours before his house was hit. The former sheriff said it appears to be a coincidence, but he'll be anxious to hear the details of the investigation.

--Craig Warmbold, WBEV-WXRO, Beaver Dam


Extension of federal Farm Bill delays feared dairy price increases

Don't worry about shelling out $8 for a gallon of milk -- not for a while anyway.

U.S. congressmen agreed yesterday to extend the current package of federal farm programs for another month until Jan. 31.

On a voice vote, the House tried to ward off the possibility that farm policies would revert back to what we had in 1949. There was a "parity" policy at the time in which milk prices were based on a production cost index, and today's milk prices would double if that formula is revived.

Meanwhile Senate leaders refused to consider an extension of the current Farm Bill, saying it's not needed.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says it would take at least a month for his agency to put the 1949 dairy policy into effect. Presumably, that would give Congress until the start of February to reach a compromise on the next Farm Bill.

Earlier this week, 20 Wisconsin Assembly Democrats called on the state's congressional delegation to do what it could get a new Farm Bill passed by the end of the year. Milton Democrat Andy Jorgensen said the possible price spike for milk, butter and cheese would squeeze the middle class at a time when the state is "struggling to rebound from the recession."


Six inches of snow predicted in parts of state

Parts of eastern Wisconsin could get six inches of new snow from this evening through tomorrow.

The National Weather Service says a low-pressure system to the southeast will bring lake-effect snow to about the eastern fifth of the state. Those folks will be under lake-effect snow watches or advisories.

Kewaunee and Manitowoc counties, next to Lake Michigan, can expect 2 to 6 inches. The Milwaukee area might get up to five inches. Most other parts of Wisconsin could get one inch or less from this system.

This is the warmest morning of the week in most of the state. Temperatures at 5 a.m. were generally in the teens throughout Wisconsin except in the far north where it's in the single digits above zero. Winds are light to nonexistent, so wind chills are generally not a problem.

As the snow leaves tomorrow, colder temperatures are due in, but warmer conditions are predicted for Sunday night and into next week, along with more chances of light snow.


Illnesses close Rhinelander schools

Almost 300 students in Rhinelander are getting a three-day weekend after about 30% of them came down with illnesses.

Some staff members at Pelican Elementary are also sick so officials decided to close the school until Monday.

A variety of illnesses are being reported. The two main ones are gastrointestinal and upper respiratory conditions with fevers.

The Oneida County Health Department recommended that Pelican be closed today.  The Health Department said parents should keep sick children at home until at least 48 hours after their symptoms go away.

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau


One Wisconsin congressman says no to Ryan budget agreement

Madison Democrat Mark Pocan is the only Wisconsin U.S. House member to vote against a federal budget agreement that overwhelmingly passed yesterday.

The 332-94 vote was a huge victory for Janesville Republican Paul Ryan. The House budget chairman and his Democratic Senate counterpart crafted the two-year package.

It raises the federal deficit by smaller amounts than planned and eases up on some of the $63 billion in automatic federal spending cuts scheduled through 2015.

Pocan said the sequestration relief does not go far enough, the deal was paid for on the backs of military families and the middle class, and it did not include an extension of federal jobless benefits which are due to expire this month. Senate leaders promised a vote early next year on extending unemployment benefits.

Menomonee Falls Republican Jim Sensenbrenner said the agreement is not perfect, but both parties made sacrifices.

Milwaukee Democrat Gwen Moore said the deal is a small but positive step toward breaking a pattern of going from crisis to crisis.

Ryan said Republicans would have to win more elections to get all of what they want, but for now, he urged them to make the divided government work.

The package now goes to the Senate where more opposition is expected from minority Republicans.


Assembly panel endorses Common Core standards for English, math

A special Wisconsin Assembly committee has voted to keep the state's Common Core standards for English and math education.

Majority Republicans recommended yesterday that the Legislature review the standards on a regular basis, and that schools be limited in obtaining fingerprints and using retinal scans on students. They also said Common Core should be tailored to Wisconsin.

Kaukauna Republican Jim Steineke said the state should not "take what's pushed down from the national level and swallow it whole."

Democrats rejected many of the eight proposals endorsed by the GOP majority. Cross Plains Democrat Sondy Pope warned that limiting biometric data could hurt the ability of school nurses to take the temperature of a sick child or monitor those with special needs.

Republicans said limits need to be set before abuses -- like government snooping through student video cameras on their computers -- can occur.

Forty-five states use the Common Core standards. Wisconsin was among the first to adopt them three years ago, and they're being revisited amid concerns that they'll result in a national takeover of education.

A similar review panel in the state Senate has yet to announce its recommendations.


Black River Falls man charged with first-degree murder

A west central Wisconsin man has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly killing a woman who lived with him.

Michael Harmon, 37, Black River Falls, is charged in Jackson County with first-degree intentional homicide as a repeat offender. He's accused of shooting 34-year-old Angela Harmon, who was found dead in the bathtub of their apartment June 9.

Yesterday a judge ruled there was enough evidence to order a trial.

Harmon told police Angela took his gun from him and waved it in his face. He said a struggle then took place, the gun went off, and she died.

A medical examiner said there's no way Angela Harmon was shot at close range, based on the area of the bullet wound. Authorities said Michael Harmon left the area after the shooting and was later arrested in Milwaukee.

He's scheduled to enter a plea at his next court appearance. A date for that has not been set. Harmon remains jailed under a $500,000 bond.