Former Officer Convicted of Murder Wins Review of New DNA Evidence
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- A former Milwaukee police officer trying to prove her innocence in a 20-year-old murder case has been granted a hearing to review new DNA evidence she believes will exonerate her.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Conen said the May 5-6 hearing for Laurie Bembenek will be limited to a review of new DNA evidence, including whether unidentified male DNA found on a vaginal swab indicates sexual assault, and ballistics evidence.
A former associate medical examiner who testified in Bembenek's preliminary hearing and 1982 trial said in a sworn affidavit Monday that she now believes the slaying of Christine Schultz was a sexual assault homicide committed by a male.
Conen ordered the results of new DNA testing unsealed Tuesday. They show male DNA was found on a vaginal swab collected from Schultz, who was the ex-wife of Bembenek's then-husband, Elfred Schultz. He also was a Milwaukee police officer.
Prosecutors called the defense claims speculative and had asked that Bembenek's petition to vacate her conviction be dismissed without a hearing.
In court filings, prosecutor Mark Williams objected to allegations that Schultz was sexually assaulted and said the male DNA likely was the result of contamination of the evidence after the slaying.
Bembenek's lawyer, Mary Woehrer, also argued that two experts "found no ballistics match between (Elfred Schultz's) off-duty gun used to convict Bembenek and the murder bullet" during testing.
Williams also contested the ballistics arguments in his motion, saying the DNA on the bullet "obviously came from an outside source after autopsy" and the off-duty gun was likely the murder weapon because "after 23 years striations can change or be removed by normal handling."
Elaine Samuels said in her affidavit that she sent sexual assault specimens from Schultz to the State Crime Laboratory but was never given the results and "presumed them to be negative."
While serving her sentence in a Wisconsin prison, Bembenek escaped to Canada and fought extradition before reaching a deal with prosecutors that set aside her conviction and allowed her to plead no contest to second-degree murder.
She was released because of time served but has continued to seek a further investigation and reviews of evidence that she contends could prove someone else killed Schultz.
Last month she sued the "Dr. Phil" show, claiming false imprisonment before the taping of a show led to injuries and the amputation of her leg.