A Plea for Justice: Most La Crosse Co. cases end with plea - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

A Plea for Justice: Most La Crosse Co. cases end with plea

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW)-- According to the La Crosse County District Attorney's office, some of the prominent local cases in 2012 did not go to trial; they instead were resolved with a plea agreement.

There are a lot of elements that go into creating the agreement.

It not only allows both parties to avoid a criminal trial, but it sometimes allows the defendant to avoid a maximum sentence.

Anyone accused of a crime in the United States has a constitutional right to a trial by jury, but many times the defendant gives up that right.

"Most cases of any kind end up in a plea and we say plea agreement because sometimes people plead guilty to the charge," said Tim Gruenke, a La Crosse County D.A.

"When you plead guilty or no contest you give up your right to a jury trial," said Tom Locante, a La Crosse public defender.

According to Wisconsin Circuit Court, in 2011 and 2012, 1,542 felony cases were opened in La Crosse County.

Less than two percent of those cases went to trial, while more than 90 percent ended with a plea agreement or a reduced or dismissed charge.

"Sexual assault cases, homicide cases and some of the higher stakes cases are more likely to go to trial that other cases," said Locante.

"We have seen plea agreements in homicide cases, we have seen trials in homicide cases. We have seen pleas for underage drinking, we have had trials for underage drinking," said Gruenke.

Holmen native Jesse Herrmann faced almost 100 years in prison after pleading guilty to causing the car accident in June of 2011 that killed 23-year-old Theresa Kroes of Onalaska.

"No one should ever have to go through this again because of him. I don't wish him any pain. I don't want to harm him in anyway, but I don't want to see him harm anyone else," said Theresa's father, Jeff Kroes.

Herrmann agreed to plead guilty to six of the eight felony charges against him that November.

"I am ashamed of what happen, of what I have done," said Herrmann.

A judge then sentenced him to 31 years in prison, one third of the time he originally faced.

In November of 2012, two La Crosse men took plea agreements by pleading guilty to being party to the crime of reckless homicide of 20-year-old Sara Hougom.

Kong Vue and Pao Choua Vue each were sentenced to 35 years in prison.

There are many different elements that help a defense and prosecution decide on a plea.

Along with the evidence, each case also has individual characteristics.

"In any case we start off with what we think this case is worth. La Crosse County standards, what are judges have done in the past, we try to stay consistent with that," said Gruenke.

"Our job is always to work in our clients best interest and I believe that plea bargains give us one more tool to try and achieve a fair resolution for our clients, said Locante.

"We have to take into account the individual. Do they have a drug addiction, or mental illness? Do they have a long prior record or no record? Are they remorseful? Have they paid restitution?" said Gruenke.

Ultimately, the judge has the final say at sentencing.

"We are looking at eye-for-an-eye prevention. What will stop this from happening in the future? Deterrence: what message does this send to the community and rehabilitation if they have certain characteristic. We try to consider all of those things in the decision," said La Crosse County Circuit Court Judge Dale Pasell.

While each case has different characteristics, the plea process always considers the same things: the evidence, public safety and the prior history of the offender.

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