Judge Doles Out Harsh Sentences to Christina Vana & Karen Meissner

On November 10th, 2009, Judge Teresa Warner stayed imposition of an unspecified amount of prison time and sentenced Karen Meissner and Christina Vana to 7 years of probation, 8 hours of community service every month for the next 2 years, and a $100 fine plus standard court fees. Among the conditions of probation were that they participate in whatever educational or vocational programming Probation sets for them. As is usual in felony cases, DNA samples were required. The issue of restitution will remain open for 90 days.

Around 25 people showed up to court to support these two of the “Milwaukee 3” defendants. Well, 25 people not counting lawyers, undercover cops, and a bevy of Sheriff’s Deputies. At the request of Courtwatch last week, the judge took steps to get a larger courtroom to accommodate the expected crowd. The advantage was that there were plenty of seats for everyone, but the disadvantage was that we were much further away from the judge’s bench and our friends.

Their sentences were the results of plea agreements reached between the defendants and prosecutor Richard Dusterhoft, who was not present at the sentencing. He failed to communicate the content of the agreement to the lawyer who filled in for him, causing the judge to dismiss the prosecution’s arguments for 90 days in jail out of hand.

A plea agreement, said the judge, is a legal agreement, and this one was entered into evidence in the court records. Neither the prosecutor nor the defendants were free to disregard this agreement.

The judge said she had received 52 letters an hour before court was due to start–all of which appeared to have been printed on the same machine (which was confusing since she also said they had been faxed to her). She said that there wasn’t always time for a judge to read that much material just before court started. Nevertheless, she read all 52 letters. She called attention to one in particular that she said she found offensive in tone–she objected to the reference to a “plea bargain.”

“If you want a bargain, go to Target!” the judge snapped. This was a plea agreement.

Per the plea agreement, the judge said she had crafted a sentence that she felt would be useful for rehabilitation, yet sufficiently severe to provide the necessary punishment and accountability that was required in view of the seriousness of the crime. She told each of the defendants that, in spite of what the Pre-Sentencing Investigation found, she believed that they were remorseful and regretted their actions. She remembered them coming into court as two very scared young people, and she was convinced that they really had not considered the consequences of their actions on September 1st, 2008.

She said that, in some ways, the probation she had assigned was a much more severe sentence than jail time. Had they received a jail sentence, they might have “been very scared,” but they could have completed the sentence relatively quickly and gone on with their lives without ever really considering the consequences of what they had done. With a long probation, they would receive extended supervision and have plenty of time to see the consequences of their actions.

One of the defense attorneys, Ted Dooley, asked if it was possible for the defendants to do their community service in the state in which they would be living. The judge said that that would be acceptable if the probation was transferred. Dooley then asked if his client might return to Wisconsin to be with her sister who was in the hospital, but the judge declined to make specific allowances for that. Both Christina and Karen are forbidden to leave Minnesota without the permission of the Probation Office.

The judge’s tone and statements during the sentence show us all too clearly what the “justice” system is all about–controlling people’s lives and establishing authority over them. Having the audacity to imply that being incarcerated is easy, Judge Warner took what she felt was a more vindictive route to determine her sentencing. Having satisfied herself that she was exercising her authority over other people’s lives adequately, she made sure to rub it in Christina’s and Karen’s faces and talk down to them during the proceedings.

Although we’re glad that our friends do not have to spend more time in jail, we reject the “tough love” approach Judge Warner took, as well as the system of oppression known as the criminal “justice” system that enables her to take it. We will not be satisfied with any judge’s whims controlling our lives. Rather, we stand in solidarity with our friends and will continue to love and support them!

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