Posted: 2004-07-08 12:01:00
The University of Wisconsin Law School's Innocence Project is in the news again with the order of new DNA tests for a double murder committed in 1991.
The following news story apeared in the Wisconsin Journal Sentinel and was sent out by the Associated Press.
New DNA Tests Ordered in 1991 Double Murder
A UW-Madison Law School Program is Looking into the Conviction of a Woman in the Case.
Wednesday, July 4, 2004
A UW-Madison Law School program that helped free two wrongly convicted men from prison is pursuing new DNA testing on evidence from the murder scene of two elderly sisters.
The Wisconsin Innocence Project has won a court order for a new round of DNA tests in the murder case of Ann Cadigan, 90, and her sister, Ceil Cadigan, 85.
Beth LaBatte was convicted of killing the sisters in their rural Casco home in 1991.
Law students Scott Paler and Dorothy Weber want to compare new DNA testing on evidence from the murder scene with LaBatte's DNA and also with the DNA of another former Casco-area resident, a 35-year-old man they believe now lives in Colorado.
Several inmates testified at LaBatte's 1997 trial that she told them she killed the two women during a robbery. No physical evidence linked LaBatte to the crime scene.
LaBatte told investigators of the Cadigan murders that around the time of the killings, she abused alcohol and drugs and struggled with two personalities and blackouts. She had become a suspect partly because of her criminal record.
According to testimony of one of the investigators, LaBatte conceded it was possible she had committed the murders, but later insisted she did not kill the Cadigan sisters.
The initial investigation included tests on evidence from the murder scene, but they did not identify any suspects.
The state Crime Laboratory will now conduct DNA tests on numerous items, including a pair of bloodstained white socks, a piece of a pool cue that was used to beat the women and hair found in the victims' hands.
The lab says it is too early to say when the tests might be done.
The UW-Madison students want to compare the DNA tests to a man who was one of the original suspects in the case. During the early investigation, authorities seized from him a knife and sneakers with blood on them.
Law professor Keith Findley, co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, said if the DNA tests identify a suspect other than LaBatte, she should be freed or given a new trial.
LaBatte, now 37, has been held since July 1999 in a prison outside Phoenix, officials said.
Kewaunee County Sheriff John Cmeyla, who was not involved in the original investigation, acknowledged DNA testing has improved since the murders, but violence, he said of LaBatte, "was in her nature."
The Wisconsin Innocence Project helped a Manitowoc County man who served nearly 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit and a Texas man who spent 12 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn't commit.