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Janesville GM site owner quietly sells off small sliver of massive, 250-acre property

JANESVILLE

As bids are set to close Thursday on a fire sale auction of both major pieces of the 250-acre former General Motors plant in Janesville, property records show the property’s St. Louis-based owners already have quietly closed on the sale of a small sliver of the massive site.

State Department of Revenue real estate transfer records show that Commercial Development Company on Nov. 2 sold off a key-shaped, 5-acre outlot that once housed GM’s wastewater plant. According to state records, the site at 1210 S. Academy St. sold for $170,000 to Center Construction of Evansville.

That transaction is dwarfed by the pending auction a private broker is facilitating for both the 115-acre former GM plant site and the former JATCO haul-away yard just south. The two sites are cleared of all buildings, but heavy concrete and pavement spans almost the entire empty gulf of property.

The two big parcels initially were marked for sale earlier this year at an opening, minimum bid of $750,000 apiece, with bidding to end today.

Commercial Development has not responded to a Gazette reporter’s inquiries about the pending property sales. Some city of Janesville officials recently expressed concerns that the auction was rolling out even as Commercial Development apparently has failed this year to pay property taxes and utility fees for the site.

It has prompted two city officials to publicly ask whether Commercial Development intends to “cut and run” on its remaining obligations on the century-old site. The owner still has as much as 100 acres of concrete slab on the ground that the city is asking be removed or capped and covered. The state Department of Natural Resources still hasn’t officially cleared the northern main plant site of environmental liabilities, officials said.

The thin, 1-acre-wide former wastewater plant parcel is one of a handful of smaller outlots that are part of the property but aren’t attached to the main GM plant parcels.

The parcel, which Commercial Development has cleared of buildings as it has on the main plant site, extends along South Academy Street to Delavan Drive. It is separated from the main plant site by a small, residential subdivision to the east and an easement for a large set of railroad spurs.

On Wednesday, the former wastewater site appeared as though it is now being used for storage. An owner for Center Construction—which lists itself as a general construction, excavation and snow removal contractor—did not immediately respond to a Gazette inquiry about plans for the parcel.

Gale Price, Janesville’s economic development director, said he learned sale of the wastewater plant was being handled separate from the larger auction because Commercial Development had an accepted offer on the wastewater site before the larger auction got underway.

Price predicted some reuse prospects for the former GM site, particularly initially, might roll out similarly—with smaller-scale reuse prospects.

“In my mind’s eye, a big piece of the why that one arrived at an offer outside or ahead of the auction is because it’s a much smaller piece,” Price said. “It’s manageable in the sense that adaptive reuse plans for 5 acres is (different from) adaptive reuse plans on 100 acres right next door.”

On Wednesday, Price echoed sentiments made last week by City Manager Mark Freitag that the city suspects Commercial Development aims to unload the property and move on. It’s not clear what the company will do about the $300,000 in unpaid property taxes and utility bills it owes on the former GM site.

Price said those unpaid bills could be part of a bigger problem: That the 115-acre northern plant site might not be in a state that would spur redevelopment interest without some potentially sizeable upfront costs.

Anthony Wahl 

A 5-acre piece of land that was once used as the location for General Motor’s wastewater plant has been sold to a local contractor.

The DNR has said it would be amenable to Commercial Development leaving leagues of former GM factory building slabs in place on the northern site as a way to cap postindustrial contaminants beneath them.

Commercial Development bills itself as a brownfield redevelopment firm, but a Gazette investigation in 2017, when the company was first identified as the buyer of the property, revealed that in many cases the company sells off postindustrial properties after salvaging and selling the onsite scrap and factory equipment without getting involved at all in site redevelopment.

Price said the city “intends to continue to be a partner” to help spur redevelopment at the old plant site. But he said Commercial Development might not have helped as much as it could have.

Instead, the property went to auction with piles of rubble still scattered across parts of it and a patchwork of thick concrete slabs, neither of which are allowed under the city’s property demolition rules.

“It would have been nice to see them put the (main) GM plant site in a little better position to get developed,” Price said. “If I’m a developer and I have to choose between a site with a bunch of concrete chunks left sitting all over it versus a (rezoned) farm field someplace else, it’s probably a pretty easy decision. That’s the frustrating thing.

“I look at all the piles of concrete and think maybe we’re not as well off as we were when all the GM (factory) buildings were still there. But you know, it is what it is at this point.”


Kinsley Hendrickson, 7, plays a game of tug with her golden retriever named Jack in a pile of leaves in Janesville on Wednesday.


National
AP
Rittenhouse: 'I didn't do anything wrong. I defended myself'

KENOSHA

Kyle Rittenhouse testified Wednesday he was under attack when he killed two men and wounded a third with his rifle during a chaotic night of protests in Kenosha, saying: “I didn’t do anything wrong. I defended myself.”

In a high-stakes gamble, the 18-year-old took the stand at his murder trial to tell his side of what happened on the streets that day in the summer of 2020, sobbing so hard at one point that the judge called a break.

In an account largely corroborated by video and the prosecution’s own witnesses, Rittenhouse said that the first man cornered him and put his hand on the barrel of Rittenhouse’s rifle, the second man hit him with a skateboard, and the third man came at him with a gun of his own.

His nearly all-day testimony was interrupted by an angry exchange in which his lawyers demanded a mistrial over what they argued were out-of-bounds questions asked of him by the chief prosecutor.

The judge, though plainly mad at the prosecutor, did not immediately rule on the request. And later in the day, he instructed the jury to expect closing arguments early next week.

Rittenhouse is on trial over the shootings he committed during unrest that erupted in Kenosha over the wounding of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white Kenosha police officer. He could get life in prison on the charges.

Rittenhouse, who was 17 at the time, went to Kenosha with an AR-style semi-automatic weapon and a medic bag in what the former police youth cadet said was an effort to protect property after rioters had set fires and ransacked businesses on previous nights.

The case has divided Americans over whether Rittenhouse was a patriot taking a stand against lawlessness or a vigilante.

As he began crying on the stand and appeared unable to speak, his mother, Wendy Rittenhouse, seated on a bench across the courtroom, sobbed loudly. Someone put an arm around her. After the judge called a recess, jurors walked by Rittenhouse and looked on as he continued to cry.

After the morning outburst, he was largely composed the rest of the day, though his voice seemed to break at times as he came under tough cross-examination.

Prosecutor Thomas Binger went hard at Rittenhouse all afternoon during cross-examination, walking him through each of the shootings. Rittenhouse continually pushed back, saying he had no choice but to fire.

Rittenhouse said he “didn’t want to have to shoot” Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man to fall that night, but he said Rosenbaum was chasing him and had threatened to kill him earlier.

“If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it,” he said, “and probably killed more people.”

But Rittenhouse also acknowledged that the strap holding his gun was in place and that he had both hands on the weapon. And Binger suggested that Rosenbaum might have been trying to bat the rifle away.

The prosecutor sought to drive home the state’s contention that Rittenhouse created the dangerous situation in the first place.

“You understand that when you point your AR-15 at someone, it may make them feel like you’re going to kill them, correct?” Binger asked.

Rittenhouse testified that he then shot and killed protester Anthony Huber after Huber struck him in the neck with his skateboard and grabbed his gun. Then he wounded Gaige Grosskreutz, saying the protester had lunged at him “with his pistol pointed directly at my head.”

Rittenhouse’s decision to testify carried risks, including the possibility of fierce cross-examination. And some legal experts expressed doubt about the need to put him on the stand given that some of the prosecution’s own witnesses have already bolstered his claim of self-defense.

Much of the testimony Wednesday was centered on the shooting of Rosenbaum, since that set in motion that bloodshed that followed.

Rittenhouse said that earlier that night, Rosenbaum was holding a chain and twice threatened his life. Apologizing to the court for his language, Rittenhouse quoted Rosenbaum as saying: “I’m going to cut your (expletive) hearts out!”

Later that night, Rittenhouse said, he was walking toward a car dealer’s lot with a fire extinguisher to put out a blaze when he heard somebody scream, “Burn in hell!” He said he responded by saying, “Friendly, friendly, friendly!”

He said Rosenbaum was running at him from one side and another protester with a gun was in front of him, and he was cornered. He said he began to run, and he heard a protester tell Rosenbaum, “Get him and kill him!”

Rittenhouse said he heard a gunshot directly behind him, and as he turned around, Rosenbaum was coming at him with his arms out in front. “I remember his hand on the barrel of my gun,” Rittenhouse said.

That was when he fired, he said.

He also said he thought the object Rosenbaum threw during the chase—a plastic hospital bag—was the chain he had seen earlier.

Asked by his lawyer why he didn’t keep running away from Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse said: “There was no space for me to continue to run to.”

During cross-examination, Binger asked Rittenhouse about whether it was appropriate to use deadly force to protect property and also posed questions about the defendant’s silence after his arrest.

At that, the jury was ushered out of the room, and Judge Bruce Schroeder loudly and angrily accused Binger of pursuing an improper line of questioning and trying to introduce testimony that the judge earlier said he was inclined to prohibit—video made some 15 days before the shootings in which Rittenhouse watches men leave a CVS Pharmacy and is heard saying that he wished he had his rifle so he could shoot them because he thought they were shoplifters.

Rittenhouse lawyer Corey Chirafisi all but suggested prosecutors were deliberately trying to cause a mistrial because the case is “going badly” for them and they want a do-over. The defense asked for a mistrial with prejudice, meaning that if one is granted, Rittenhouse cannot be retried.

When Binger said he had been acting in good faith, the judge replied: “I don’t believe that.”

As he first took the stand, Rittenhouse was asked by his attorney whether he came to Kenosha looking for trouble, and he responded no.

He testified that he saw videos of violence in downtown Kenosha on the day before the shootings, including a brick being thrown at a police officer’s head and cars burning in a Car Source dealership lot.

Rittenhouse said the Car Source owner “was happy we were there” that night.

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This story has been corrected to show that it was the defense attorney, not the judge, who suggested the prosecutor was trying to cause a mistrial, and to fix the spelling of Chirafisi’s last name.

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Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin; Foody from Chicago. Associated Press writer Tammy Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.

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Find AP’s full coverage on the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse at: https://apnews.com/hub/kyle-rittenhouse


Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 11, 2021

David Ainger

Wilma Charlene Brandsey

Richard O. Brewer

Richard I. Howes

Ralph A. Moehrke

Lester Paul Oldenburg Sr.

Darlene Joyce Varnes


Janesville Parker head coach Ryan Tyrrell watches as players break off into pairs for a shooting exercise.


Crime
Former Clinton trustee sentenced in child sex assault case

JANESVILLE

A former Clinton village trustee has pleaded guilty in a child sex assault case as part of a plea agreement with the Rock County District Attorney’s Office.

Ronald E. Torkilson, 70, pleaded guilty to third-degree sexual assault and was sentenced by Judge John Wood to four years of probation and is required to register as a sex offender after an investigation regarding two sexual assaults of a 14-year-old boy and 17-year-old boy in 1997.

He was originally charged with two counts of repeated sexual assault of a child. As part of the plea agreement, the charges were amended with a single count of repeated sexual assault of a child being dismissed but read into the court record.

Torkilson was arrested and charged in April 2021 after the two victims came forward to the Rock County Sheriff’s Office as adults about assaults in their youth.

As previously reported by Adams Publishing Group, a man told a Rock County Sheriff’s Office detective that Torkilson assaulted him starting at age 14 while he was in eighth grade. Torkilson drove the victim around in a truck, gave him beer and then assaulted him. The victim told police all assaults were predicated on getting the victim intoxicated, court records show.

Another adult male victim told authorities Torkilson assaulted him multiple times at a home in the 600 block of West Milwaukee Street in Clinton when the second victim was 14 years old. The assaults of the second victim also included alcohol and continued until the victim was 17 years old, the criminal complaint states.

The second victim told authorities he never came forward about the assaults “because he was always embarrassed,” the complaint said.

Rock County Assistant District Attorney Mason Braunschweig confirmed one of the victims in the case had recently died, noting that there was “no evidence” that the victim’s death had “anything to do with the case.”

During Wednesday’s sentencing hearing, Braunschweig said the assaults committed by Torkilson were “shocking” and a “boogeyman-type of situation.”

“This is one of those nightmares,” Braunschweig said.

Braunschweig stressed that both victims in the case had informed the court that there wasn’t “any desire to see the defendant imprisoned,” which prompted the sentence request for probation.

“They just wanted exposure,” Braunschweig said, noting that the state waited about 10 months to see whether any other victims would come forward amid media coverage of the case.

As a result of the assaults, Braunschweig said the victims dealt with “alcoholism and negative ramifications that can be attributed to the trauma that was felt and endured” as teenagers.

Defense attorney Scott Schroeder cited Torkilson’s cooperation with law enforcement as a sign he was taking responsibility for his actions.

“This is an appropriate sentence,” Schroeder said.

Torkilson apologized to the victims in the case.

“I am very, very sorry for what went on,” Torkilson said. “I ask for their forgiveness. It has really been hard on myself and my family, and I would just like to get it over and done with, I guess.”

Torkilson, who served on the Village Board of Trustees, did not respond to a request for comment as of Wednesday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Village Board President Thomas Peterson said Torkilson had communicated to the board that if he was convicted, he would resign from his trustee position. The village’s website was updated Wednesday morning to show that Torkilson’s seat was listed as vacant.

Since his arrest, Torkilson continued to carry out his role as trustee by attending meetings and participating in voting on village business, according to village board meeting minutes reviewed by APG.


National
AP
EXPLAINER: Did state's own witnesses hurt Rittenhouse case?

KENOSHA

Prosecutors wrapped up more than a week of testimony at Kyle Rittenhouse’s homicide trial after calling more than a dozen witnesses—some appearing to help the defense more than the prosecution.

The onus was on prosecutors to counter Rittenhouse’s self-defense claim in shooting dead two men and wounding a third at a protest in Kenosha last year after the shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black, by a white police officer. The defense team began its case Tuesday.

Rittenhouse, then 17, fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum at a car lot. After running from that scene, he shot and killed Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz.

A look at the state’s presentation to jurors:

Q: How do legal experts think it went?

A: Legal experts agreed prosecutors had the bigger challenge going in, and some said they didn’t come close to eliciting the kind of testimony sure to persuade jurors.

“The case has gone very badly for the prosecution,” said Phil Turner, a former federal prosecutor who has followed the trial through the media.

Prosecutors endeavored to show Rittenhouse’s fears for his life the night of Aug. 25, 2020, weren’t justified. But successive state witnesses, Turner and other legal experts said, seemed to buttress the defense assertion that Rittenhouse had good reason to be afraid.

Not everyone believes the state’s presentation went that badly. Joe Lopez, a Chicago-based defense attorney, singled out witnesses who said Rosenbaum acted oddly but didn’t pose a threat as testimony helpful to the state.

“The prosecution has called witnesses that hurt their case—but sometimes you take the good with the bad,” Lopez said.

Q: What are some examples of state witnesses seeming to aid the defense?

A: Ryan Balch is a military veteran who carried an AR-style rifle that night and patrolled with Rittenhouse. He told jurors how Rosenbaum made ominous threats within earshot of Rittenhouse.

“If I catch any of you guys alone tonight I’m going to f------ kill you!” he recalled Rosenbaum shouting.

Another witness, videographer Richie McGinniss, described Rosenbaum chasing Rittenhouse and lunging for Rittenhouse’s gun. When prosecutor Thomas Binger pressed McGinniss to concede he didn’t know what Rosenbaum’s intent was, McGinniss had a pointed—and damaging—answer.

“Well,” McGinniss promptly replied, “he said, ‘F--- you.’ And then he reached for the weapon.”

Gal Pissetzky, another Chicago-based defense attorney, said that was vital testimony—for the defense.

“If (lunging for the gun) is not a threatening action that would put Rittenhouse in fear for his life, I am not sure what would be,” he said.

McGinniss also described Rittenhouse as appearing to do all he could to flee and even shouting “friendly, friendly, friendly” at Rosenbaum to convey he meant no harm.

Grosskreutz is another state witness who might have helped the defense’s case as much as the prosecution’s. He testified that he carried a loaded pistol that night and acknowledged that it was aimed at Rittenhouse when Rittenhouse shot him—although Grosskreutz maintained he didn’t intentionally aim the gun and said he wouldn’t have fired.

Q: Were there notable missteps by prosecutors?

A: Prosecutors made at least one unforced error that allowed evidence favorable to the defense that otherwise would have been barred.

It happened with Rosenbaum’s fiancée, Kariann Swart, on the stand when a prosecutor asked her if Rosenbaum had taken medication earlier on the day he was shot.

By asking that question, the judge ruled prosecutors opened the door for the defense to ask Swart what the medication was for. Under cross-examination, she told jurors it was for bipolar disorder and depression.

In self-defense cases, the mental health history of an alleged aggressor isn’t considered relevant unless the person who used deadly force was aware of it. Rittenhouse wasn’t.

But getting Rosenbaum’s mental health in front of jurors could add credibility to the idea that Rosenbaum was an unstable aggressor.

Q: What testimony helped prosecutors?

A: Some testimony depicted Rittenhouse as reckless for attending such a volatile protest with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle, suggesting that was the primary cause of the tragic series of events.

Prosecutors also presented evidence contrasting Rittenhouse’s actions with others who came armed to the protest but never fired a shot.

Prosecutors also sought to play down Rosenbaum as a threat.

Jason Lackowski, another armed veteran in Rittenhouse’s group, told jurors he saw Rosenbaum as “a babbling idiot” and that he perceived his threats as hollow.

Q: What else might have helped their case?

A: Prosecutors had some success in raising doubts about a key defense assertion that Rittenhouse feared his alleged attackers would wrest his rifle away and use it to shoot him.

State witness Dominick Black, a friend of Rittenhouse’s who similarly showed up with a weapon, told jurors he bought the rifle for Rittenhouse months before the shootings because Rittenhouse wasn’t old enough to own one at the time.

He testified that a gun sling Rittenhouse wore around his neck and shoulder area included a strap that anchored the gun to Rittenhouse’s body. He said that strap would have made it difficult for anyone to pry the gun away—undermining the defense claim that Rittenhouse feared losing control of his weapon.

Q: What’s the bottom line?

A: Trying to guess how jurors are perceiving evidence is hazardous in any case, perhaps more so in one as novel and politically charged as Rittenhouse’s.

The significance of evidence presented by prosecutors is often not evident until closing arguments—an opportunity for prosecutors to connect all the dots for jurors.


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