innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

New Trial

By Jerry Burke

An Outagamie County ordered a new trial in a 14-year-old murder case Tuesday afternoon. Two sisters living in Casco, Cecilia and Ann Cadigan, were found brutally beaten and murdered in their home in November, 1991.
The case went unsolved until 1996 when Beth LaBatte was arrested and later convicted for their murders. The University of Wisconsin-based Innocence Project convinced a judge that new evidence could have changed the verdict almost a decade ago.
Innocence Project co-director Keith Findley told Judge Dennis Luebke that new DNA testing proves LaBatte was not at the Cadigan house when the murders occurred. Findley argued the testing was not available in1997 when LaBatte's was put on trial.
Prosecutors argued that despite the new evidence, LaBatte herself admitted four times to committing the murders. The judge acknowledged that but said he reluctantly finds the new evidence dictates LaBatte should get a new trial.
"I nonetheless must find that, indeed, the results would probably be different," Judge Luebke ruled, "and the interest of justice compels this court must grant the motion for a new trial."
LaBatte broke out in a huge smile with the decision, though she was returned to jail after the hearing.
Her family hopes a new trial will correct what they say was a wrong. "Just by the way it was handled in court from the very beginning, the things the jury didn't get to hear," her sister, Dede Blahnik, said. The State admits its case against LaBatte is now significantly weaker now because several key witnesses have since passed away.
"We have no idea where a lot of the people are. It's going to be a very significant investigation for our sheriff's department to locate these people again," Assistant District Attorney Elma Anderson said. Judge Luebke indicated he wants a new trial as soon as possible. Prosecutors have three weeks to decide whether to appeal the ruling.
The U.W. Innocence Project has worked on LaBatte's case for five years. The program involves law students who determine cases where a wrong verdictmay have been reached. Findley says LaBatte's case appears to be one of them.
"This case, from the very beginning, looked to us to be one that did not have significant evidence against Beth LaBatte, and the evidence the State did have had somered flags you see in wrongful conviction cases," he explained.