Judge Todd Bjerke Thursday denied a request to remove himself from the sentencing portion of a West Salem man convicted of homicide in the death of his wife last year.
Bjerke said the sentencing would go on for Todd Kendhammer as scheduled Friday morning.
Kendhammer was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of his wife Barbara in December.
With the conviction, Kendhammer faces a mandatory life sentence. Judge Bjerke has the option of allowing Kendhammer the possibility of release from prison after 20 years.
WXOW.com will provide live coverage of the Kendhammer sentencing beginning at 9 a.m. Friday morning. You can also watch the sentencing on our WXOW News App.
A last minute motion filed by Todd Kendhammer's attorneys asks for the recusal of Judge Todd Bjerke who presided over the homicide trial last December.
Kendhammer was found guilty of first-degree homicide in that jury trial. He was convicted of killing his wife, Barb Kendhammer, before staging it to look like an accident.
The defense attorneys filed the motion for recusal on Monday, just four days before Judge Bjerke is expected to sentence Kendhammer.
In the motions, Kendhammer's attorneys state that the request is based on the court's conduct during trial, "which at a minimum raised questions about whether the court was impartial, or whether it placed the interests of the local media (and how the Court appeared in the media) ahead of the defendant's right to fair trial and effective assistance of counsel."
The 28-page brief in support of the motion for recusal provides examples of pre-trial media coverage surrounding the case that attorneys say swayed the court and the jurors to unfairly make up their minds of Kendhammer's guilt.
"Public access to the courts is not only a right to the defendant but to the public as well," said Jim Kroner, attorney with Moen, Ehrsam, & Kroner, S.C. "It is designed to enhance the confidence in the result of the case, and therefore, I don't think that by enhancing the public's ability to see and know what's going on, the judge is doing anything wrong."
Kroner says concerns surrounding the media should have been addressed before the trial started.
"To the extent that it complains about this adverse publicity, that part of the motion looks like a motion that you would bring pre-trial for a change in venue," Kroner said. "But, they knew all of this stuff then, and they talked about bringing a motion for a change of venue, but they never did so. "
He adds that the strategic decision to stay in La Crosse County resulted in limited space and a greater need for media coverage.
"More people than were able to wanted to see this case. There wasn't room for everybody in the court," Kroner said. "It appears from what they described about Judge Bjerke's behavior it was solicitous in trying to make sure that those people who couldn't be in the courtroom were able to know what's going on."
No time has been set for Judge Bjerke to discuss the motion for recusal. Kroner says it will likely be addressed before Kendhammer's sentencing begins on Friday morning.
District Attorney Tim Gruenke issued a statement regarding the motion for recusal. Although he does not take a position, he states that the defendant has not provided enough evidence to support the bias charge. He says it does not appear that the defendant had any of his rights violated or even impacted.
Along with the motion for Judge Bjerke to recuse himself, defense attorneys also submitted letters asking for leniency at sentencing. A collection of letters written in support of Kendhammer from his closest family and friends shares personal stories that portray him as a loving father, son, grandfather, and friend.
Kendhammer faces a mandatory life sentence, but a judge could choose to make him eligible for parole after at least 20 years.
News 19 will be live streaming Kendhammer's sentencing on our website starting at 9 a.m. on Friday, March 9.