Mike Heine/The Week
(Published Nov. 26, 2007, 4:31 p.m.)
Come January, Walworth County will play host to a major murder trial.
Not because a major murder happened here, but because a Kenosha County judge ordered it.
Instead of picking jury members from outside Kenosha County and sequestering them, Judge Bruce Schroeder ordered Nov. 6 that the trial of Mark Jensen be held in Elkhorn with a Walworth County jury.
Jensen’s defense argued that he wouldn’t get a fair trial in Kenosha County because of extensive media coverage of his case.
Jensen, 48, is accused of the 1998 poisoning of his wife, Julie.
His defense has been that she killed herself with ethylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze, to frame him because she learned he was having an affair.
Before her death, Julie told friends and neighbors that she was worried Mark would poison her, according to a criminal complaint.
Two-day jury selection starts Jan. 3. The trial, which could last four to six weeks and include testimony on Saturdays, will begin Jan. 7.
The case has drawn media interest from across the country.
In addition to Milwaukee and Chicago outlets, CBS’s “48 Hours Mystery” and ABC’s “20/20” likely will cover the trial. CourtTV is expected to have cameras there, too, said Kerry Connelly, district court administrator for the state’s Second Judicial District.
Since Schroeder’s order, Walworth County, the state court system and Kenosha County have been planning the logistics for getting through a busy month, said Sheila Reiff, Walworth County clerk of courts.
Two other lengthy trials are to be held in January.
The Jensen trial will be in the largest courtroom, where Walworth County Judge Michael Gibbs presides. Schroeder will preside there with his own clerk and a Kenosha County court reporter.
One of the four Walworth County judges, likely Judge John Race, will hold court in one of the smaller courtrooms on the second floor.
Race’s family court usually does not require juries, Reiff said.
As a backup, the county’s public works department is preparing a courtroom in the downtown Elkhorn government center.
One of the courtrooms was not changed during renovations of the old county courthouse, Reiff said.
Media will have closed-circuit TV viewing of the Jensen courtroom from inside two unfinished courtrooms inside the judicial center.
Parking at the judicial center will be at a premium when the murder trial starts.
A four-week criminal trial in Judge James Carlson’s courtroom is scheduled to start Jan. 4, and a three-week civil trial in Judge Robert Kennedy’s courtroom starts Jan. 7.
Jury pools for all three trials likely will be exceptionally large, which means parking lots will be packed until the juries are selected.
About 400 summonses were sent out for the Jensen case alone, Connelly said.
Reiff said her office is preparing summonses for the other trials. None of the juries is expected to be sequestered.
Connelly doesn’t expect a large contingent of public onlookers unless the Jensen case draws interest from people following along in the media.
“I’ve attended some of the hearings in Kenosha. There’s more press there than there is people watching it,” he said. “Only ones that show up are family members.”
January will be the biggest month of activity at the judicial center since it opened April 4, 2005.
“It’s kind of like a big puzzle,” Reiff said of figuring out where to put everything. “We’re going to make it work.
“That nice thing is that all departments are working together. We’re going to sit down, figure out what we have to do and get it done.”
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