Kenosha Circuit Judge Chad Kerkman has reinstated Mark Jensen’s conviction for the murder of Jensen’s wife, Julie.
The ruling came during a motion hearing Friday morning, reversing decisions from federal district and appeals judges who said Jensen’s original conviction was invalid because of issues with evidence used during the trial.
“We believe this decision is not the correct decision under the law and this decision will be appealed,” Jensen’s attorney Deja Vishny said. The case will be appealed to federal district court, going back to the same judge who overturned Jensen’s conviction.
Julie Jensen died in 1998, in the couple’s Pleasant Prairie home. Jensen was charged with her death in 2002, and convicted in 2008.
The conviction was overturned in 2013 by a federal judge who said evidence used in the 2008 trial should not have been admitted. The evidence in question — statements and letters Julie Jensen made before her death, pointing the finger at her husband were anything to happen to her — was an “unrebuttable and emotionally compelling accusation of guilt,” the judge wrote.
The state appealed that ruling, but the federal appeals court agreed with the district judge, setting the case for a retrial. The trial was supposed to start Sept. 25.
The federal judge in his decision had ordered that Jensen be released from prison or retried. Prosecutors have argued that Jensen poisoned his wife and tried to make it look like a suicide, while the defense says she poisoned herself and then framed her husband.
Back in Kenosha County Circuit Court, Kerkman agreed with prosecutors that legal decisions on other cases have created new precedents that would allow the “voice from the grave” letter to be used at trial.
On Friday he granted a state motion to reinstate the conviction.
Kerkman said in court that — with his earlier ruling allowing Julie Jensen’s letter to be used at trial — evidence at the new trial would essentially be the same as in the first trial. Today, he said that with the letter evidence allowed in, the trial would not be substantially different, and he saw no reason to retry the case.
“This trial is expected to be very long, six or seven weeks,” Kerkman said, saying that was a substantial use of judicial resources. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me if the evidence is going to be the same.”
“I am going to grant the state’s motion to reinstate the conviction,” Kerkman said. “The court of appeals and the supreme court can do what they will.”
Special Prosecutor Robert Jambois declined to comment on Kerkman’s decision, saying he did not want to talk about the case when Kerkman’s decision was likely to be appealed.
He said the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office had sought an opinion in federal court as part of the state’s motion to reinstate the conviction, and in that process had received the opinion from the federal court that Kenosha prosecutors would not be in violation of the federal court’s ruling to retry the case if the conviction was reinstated because the state had in fact started the trial process.
Vishny said — based on Kerkman’s decision to admit the letter — his decision Friday did not come as a surprise. “We thought it was very likely that the court would grant the state’s motion. We disagree with the court’s decision. We disagree with the decision to admit the letter. We disagree with this decision, and now it will go to federal court.”
Jensen showed no reaction in court when Kerkman announced his decision.
“We are going to continue to fight this case,” Vishny said. “Mr. Jensen is fighting for justice and to clear his name. He is innocent, and we will get him into court and free him as soon as possible.”