Wisconsin Right Now commits what Charlie Sykes used to call a flagrant act of journalism:
“We will not release violent criminals,” Tony Evers promised voters in 2018.
That was an insidious lie.
Gov. Tony Evers’ Parole Commission has released at least 884 convicted criminals, freeing them early on parole mostly into Wisconsin communities, including more than 270 murderers and attempted murderers, and more than 44 child rapists.
The list, from 2019 through 2021, includes some of the most brutal killers in Wisconsin history and some of the most high-profile. The cases span the state, from Kenosha to Rib Mountain, Wisconsin Right Now has documented through a public records request.
How brutal are these killers? Carl Beletsky, then 39, of Oconomowoc, shot and decapitated his bank manager wife, Kathleen, with a large kitchen knife and then tried to burn her head in a wood-burning stove in 1982. Newspaper articles from the time say that Beletsky, who was worried she was going to leave him, placed Kathleen’s headless body in the trunk of a car, dumped the body in a cornfield, and then went to drink liquor.
Beletsky, now 79, was paroled in August 2019 by the Evers administration and now lives in Hatley, Wisconsin.
There are many cases that rival Beletsky’s in their outright brutality. And don’t think they’re all old. The average age of the released killers and attempted killers is 54, and they range in age from 39 to 79.
Even though they’ve only been out for three years at the most, 16 of them have already re-offended or violated terms of their parole, Corrections records show, including one man accused of strangulation.
Slightly more than half are black. About a third are white. Only four were paroled as “compassionate releases.” In 27 cases, Corrections records list no address for the parolees. Some are double murderers; there is even a triple murderer among them.
Joseph Roeling shot and killed his mother, stepfather, and 8-year-old half-sister while they slept in 1982 inside the family’s mobile home in Fond du Lac County. Roeling told a sister he was planning to get rid of everyone in the family to have free run of the home, according to a newspaper article from the time.
Roeling, 56, was paroled by the Evers administration in June 2021 and lives in Oshkosh today.
In another particularly heinous case, Terrance Shaw randomly murdered a young mother, Susan Erickson, who worked at a La Crosse hospital, raping, stabbing, and strangling her after spotting her through her home’s picture window while driving past. They were strangers. He called it “one really bad day.”
Today Shaw, 73, lives in Onalaska.
Roy Barnes, 62, lives in Milwaukee. In 1999, he murdered the brother of one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims and received 45 years in prison for it. Barnes tortured the victim and used his ear as an ashtray, according to a 2000 Green Bay Press-Gazette article. In 1998, the article says, he committed “a hammer attack on another man.”
Evers’ administration paroled Barnes in September 2020.
Over the next two months, in a new series, Wisconsin Right Now will be naming names and profiling some of the most brutal killers and child rapists paroled by the Tony Evers-Mandela Barnes administration (with the total silence of Attorney General Josh Kaul).
We will be running one story each day.
About one-third of the killers and attempted killers live in Milwaukee. Racine, Madison, and Kenosha are next in that order. All of the 274 cases are listed under homicide statutes by the Parole Commission; a review of court records, news stories, and other documents confirms that most of those homicides resulted in deaths. A far smaller number were attempted homicides. …
Democrat Tony Evers took office on Jan. 7, 2019. Evers first named John Tate to chair the Parole Commission, starting on June 3, 2019 and reappointed him in 2021.
Last spring, Evers acted shocked, as if the rescinded release of wife killer Douglas Balsewicz, which ignited news stories all over the state, was an aberration.
It was not, and he had to know this. The Parole Commission’s own records firmly prove: The Balsewicz case was the pattern.
The other cases are as horrific as that of Balsewicz, who stabbed his estranged wife Johanna more than 40 times, and that’s saying a lot. Unlike Balsewicz, there’s no evidence Evers did anything to stop the paroles. Worse, he reappointed Tate after many of them.
The released criminals include multiple cop killers; men who stabbed, strangled, and asphyxiated their wives and girlfriends; a man who shot a teenage gas station clerk in the head for $5 on the clerk’s first day alone on the job after shooting two other clerks in the head; and people who murdered and bludgeoned and raped elderly women, including a killer who used a wheelbarrow to dump the body of a murdered 86-year-old woman in the woods.
They include a killer who blew his parents’ heads off with a rifle and then went out to party, telling people his mom and dad were “laying around the house.”
A sniper who hid in the woods and randomly shot an elderly woman who was walking a dog along the Menomonee River Parkway because he wanted to kill someone.
A woman who stabbed an elderly Richland County grocer 63 times for $54; a man who strangled a baby, either with a cord from behind or by suspending the infant.
A man who went to a technical college intending to commit suicide and murdered a technical services coordinator.
A foster dad who beat a 2-year-old to death because he soiled his pants.
A biker who slashed a woman’s throat so severely he almost decapitated her after participating in a violent gang rape and then threw her in a manure pit. …
Some of the killers were released even though they already had blemished records on parole or behind bars. …
In most cases, Tate had the final say. However, Evers knew full well about Tate’s philosophy, which focuses far more on rehabilitation/redemption than punishment or protecting the public.
The paroles are reflective of an admitted belief system by both. The governor even promised to slash the state’s prison population by 50%. This is apparently who he meant.
In 2018, Evers “signaled” in an interview “that he would favor increasing paroles.”
The governor appointed Tate, a proponent of repealing truth-in-sentencing laws and police “reform,” twice to chair the Parole Commission. Evers re-upped Tate’s appointment in 2021 AFTER many of the killers, including Beletsky, were paroled, expressing zero concern about the releases. Thus, Evers is going to have to own them all.
Tate has been open about his beliefs; a Racine city council member, he once hung a Black Lives Matter flag behind him during a virtual meeting on police reform.
The paroles were only possible because of truth-in-sentencing laws Tate and Evers oppose; these are people sentenced under old laws before the Legislature eliminated parole in the state.
When Evers first appointed Tate to the job, Evers’ focus was on “improving our parole system” to eliminate “racial disparities.” He pledged that Tate would be a “strong advocate for the change we need to ensure our criminal justice system treats everyone fairly and focuses on rehabilitation.”
An Associated Press article said Evers’ choice “has been eagerly anticipated by prison reform advocates.”
“I’m trying to find ways to get people back to their communities,” Tate promised. He did not reveal that would include some of the state’s worst killers and rapists.
On Feb. 24, 2021, Evers signaled that he was happy with how Tate, a social worker, had done his job. He wrote the state Senate, “I am pleased to nominate and with the advice and consent of the Senate, do appoint JOHN TATE II, of Racine, as the Chair of the Parole Commission, to serve for the term ending March 1, 2023.” Senate Republicans let the nomination languish, meaning Tate could continue serving.
Tate bragged in 2021 about releasing more prisoners than Gov. Scott Walker’s Parole Commission. He told other officials involved in parole releases: “I just wanted to note that your efforts to really evaluate individuals where they are, giving that real chance… as well as individuals’ own progress, resulted in a great deal of people being able to return to the community… So, I just wanted to give you kudo.” He mentioned the families of criminals but not victims.
Evers has been under fire for letting Kenosha burn during riots there, but the release of some of the state’s most violent and heinous murderers and child rapists – and the impact on public safety and on traumatized victims’ families – has gone almost unnoticed in the news media. A few of the paroles were covered at the time, but most were not.
Unlike sex offenders, the public doesn’t receive a notification when convicted killers move next to them.
Evers accused Walker of lying when Walker warned that Evers planned to release violent criminals to the streets. It turns out that Walker was right, but Walker understated the problem. Even he did not fathom that Evers’ administration would release so many violent murderers and child rapists.
Tate helped found a group called “Our Wisconsin Revolution” that is openly opposed to truth-in-sentencing laws and other legislation to keep criminals behind bars longer.
We tried to reach Tate at the time of the Balsewicz story, but he never returned calls.
With Evers, this is a long pattern. He recently said he wasn’t sure he had met with murder victims’ families other than those involved in the Waukesha parade attack; he’s pardoned more than 400 offenders (including a sibling of Balsewicz who was going to give her paroled brother a place to live – pardons are different than the paroles in this story); he increased the number of early release prisoners by 16% and decreased the prison population by 15%; he softened revocation rules; and, perhaps most egregiously, he wanted to get rid of truth-in-sentencing and expand early release in his last budget.
Tate’s resignation came just three days after Wisconsin Right Now asked the Wisconsin Parole Commission for information on two past paroles Tate granted for men – Kenneth Jordan and Lavelle Chambers – convicted in connection with the murders of Milwaukee police officers. …
This is a pattern; victims’ family members were not notified of the parole releases in multiple cases, including when there was still a chance to stop them.
A victim has a right to attend a parole interview per s. 304.06(1)(eg) Wis. Stats. However, to be notified, victims’ family members must enroll in a system to receive notice.
Here’s the reality; in many cases, after decades pass, the closest family members – parents, siblings – have died or moved away or aged, leaving few alive to speak for the victim anymore.
Traumatized families fray, and PTSD takes its toll. At this stage, it’s up to the governor’s appointee to stand for public safety or not.
We asked the Parole Commission about the cases of Block, Ketterhagen, Brook, and Whiting. Why were these men paroled? When did Brook die? Were the victims’ families notified? If not, why not? Why was Ketterhagen paroled after failing parole before?
The Commission promised to respond to our questions before our deadline, but never did.