- Associated Press - Friday, February 21, 2014
Woman accused of stealing baby appears in court

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A woman accused of stealing her half-sister’s newborn boy and abandoning the infant behind a gas station in frigid temperatures made her first court appearance in Wisconsin on Friday to answer a federal kidnapping charge.

Kristen Smith, 31, could face life in prison if she’s convicted. She made her initial appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Crocker after federal marshals transported her to Madison from West Branch, Iowa, where she faces a state child endangerment charge. Authorities allege the Denver woman took the baby from a Wisconsin home and left him in Iowa as investigators closed in on her. A police chief found the baby alive and well 29 hours later.

Friday’s court proceeding, typically held to establish the schedule for a case, lasted less than five minutes. Smith’s public defender, Kelly Welsh, told Crocker that Smith’s family was trying to hire a defense attorney. The judge said he didn’t want to schedule anything until that attorney was in place and ordered Smith to remain in custody until the lawyer can participate in a detention hearing.

The baby’s parents, 18-year-old Brianna Marshall and 23-year-old Robert Powell, and other family members looked on from the gallery as Smith sat quietly. Dressed in a grey top and black slacks with her hair tied back in a ponytail, she appeared relaxed.

The parents left without talking to reporters, but the baby’s great-uncle, Mark Bennett, said he was disgusted with Smith’s demeanor.

“She won’t get away with this one,” Bennett said. “We’re going to be here every day.”

According to Bennett and court documents, Smith was visiting Marshall, Powell and the couple’s 4-day old son, Kayden Powell, at Bennett’s home in the Town of Beloit on the evening of Feb. 5. When Marshall woke up early the next morning, she discovered both Smith and Kayden were gone.


Man convicted of assaulting girl held in basement

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Wisconsin jury on Friday convicted a 20-year-old man of sexually and physically abusing his stepsister while her parents starved her and kept her in the basement.

The now-17-year-old girl was just 68 pounds when she fled the family’s home in February 2012. She told doctors her parents kept her in the basement with boarded up windows, motion sensors and an alarm on the basement door.

Prosecutors said the man sexually assaulted the girl starting from when she was 9 years old because he thought he could get away with it. The Associated Press isn’t naming the man to avoid identifying the girl.

The judge’s secretary said Friday that jurors delivered their verdict around midnight after deliberating for roughly 10 hours on the charges of first-degree sexual assault of a child, second-degree sexual assault of a child and child abuse. They convicted the man on all charges.

Prosecutors said the abuse happened between 2006 and 2011 in the home where the then-children lived with the girl’s father and the boy’s mother.

Defense attorney Ronald Benavides didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Judge Julie Genovese scheduled sentencing for Wednesday. She could also sentence him then in another sexual assault case from December 2012. That case also involved a child.


Weather keeps rangers from checking Wis. ice caves

BAYFIELD, Wis. (AP) - National Park rangers have been unable to check Lake Superior’s ice to determine if it’s safe for people to hike to the popular ice caves near the Apostle Islands.

According to the National Park Service, rangers were unable to go out Friday because of high winds and white-out conditions. They hope to check early Saturday morning if visibility improves. If the lake ice remains stable, it could reopen by noon Saturday.

Rangers closed the area Thursday night because of a strong winter storm and uncertainty how it would affect ice conditions.

More than 60,000 visited since Jan. 15, which is more the 1/3 of their average yearly visitation. In fact, they’ve had to seek help from other parks, the sheriff’s office, U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol.


18 inches of new snow falls in northwest Wisconsin

MILWAUKEE (AP) - An intense winter storm has dumped more than a foot of snow in some parts of Wisconsin and whipped up winds, creating treacherous travel conditions.

In northwestern Wisconsin, firefighters rescued a man pinned underneath the collapsed awning of his mobile home in Altoona early Friday. He was treated at the hospital for a leg injury, officials said.

In nearby Eau Claire, a 75-square-foot section of the Kmart roof collapsed under the weight of heavy snow Thursday evening, puncturing a gas line and ruining merchandise, police said. The store closed indefinitely.

Eau Clair Police spokesman Kyle Rode said the also storm toppled trees and power lines and cars got stuck driving through town.

Eighteen inches of new snow piled up in Douglas County in the northwest by noon Friday, with lesser amounts elsewhere. Strong winds whipped up whiteout conditions in rural areas.

Superior got 18 inches of snow, Brule 16 inches and Maple 15 inches, the Wisconsin Emergency Operations Center said.

Light snow or flurries continued in parts of northwestern Wisconsin Friday night, National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Huyck said. But winds in that area continue to be strong, with Ashland reporting a gust of 30 mph.

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