Julian D. Collazo was found guilty of murdering Christine Scaccia-Lubeck in 2017, a jury decided after about 90 minutes of deliberation Wednesday.
No reaction by Collazo could be detected as Judge Barbara McCrory read the verdict, but Scaccia-Lubeck’s mother, Diane Somers, sobbed.
The family has waited 2½ years to hear a guilty verdict, including waiting through a previous trial in which the jury could not reach a verdict.
Co-prosecutor Jerry Urbik said afterward that the wait took an emotional toll on the family.
Collazo, 24, must be sentenced to life in the prison system, but that could include supervised release. Urbik said the state will ask that Collazo not be given extended supervision because of the brutal nature of the crime.
Urbik said a judge has wide discretion in deciding the question of supervised release. The law requires Collazo to serve at least 20 years behind bars.
McCrory said a presentence investigation, which she ordered, will help her decide.
The investigation will give a detailed account of the crime and Collazo’s background.
Scaccia-Lubeck was stabbed 33 times in her home on Janesville’s near-west side Dec. 8, 2017.
The prosecution presented evidence of the victim’s blood on Collazo’s shoes and clothing and his admission of guilt to a fellow jail inmate.
Collazo fled Janesville in Scaccia-Lubeck’s SUV the night of the murder with Nicole R. Kazar, a woman he apparently met a few days before.
Collazo and Kazar were homeless and helped each other. On the night of the murder, they had been smoking crack cocaine and drinking, Kazar testified Tuesday.
The defense presented a different story about what happened, saying Kazar, not Collazo, committed the stabbing in a jealous rage.
Kazar testified she didn’t know Scaccia-Lubeck and had never been to her house.
Urbik said no evidence implicated Kazar, and prosecutors have no intention of pursuing her for any role in the murder.
Urbik said Kazar served the maximum sentence for driving Scaccia-Lubeck’s SUV after the murder, which was 18 months behind bars and two years of extended supervision.
Collazo did not testify as he had in the first trial.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Jensen said Kazar had the clearer motive, and he noted that she knew about such things, as she had told the court about being beaten and forced into prostitution by her former husband, who used her to lure men into compromising situations so they could be robbed.
None of that squares with the facts, District Attorney David O’Leary said in his closing argument.
Facebook messages between Collazo and Kazar showed they were not together at the time of the murder, O’Leary said.
At 6:56 p.m. Dec. 8, Collazo messaged Kazar: “I did this all for you, not me.”
Kazar asked what he did. He replied: “I got her for everything.” His next message just said, “Car.”
O’Leary said it was apparent what the homeless man with no money was talking about.
Somers found her daughter dead the next day. Police testified there was blood in the bathroom, in a hallway and in the bedroom where Scaccia-Lubeck’s body was found.
Collazo had told another inmate that he stabbed her in the bathroom, and she went to get a gun that was on a counter in the bedroom, O’Leary said.
Next to the body was a bloody footprint that police matched to Collazo’s Jordan-brand sneakers. Blood on the sneakers and Collazo’s pants also matched Scaccia-Lubeck.
No blood was found on Kazar’s clothing. Jensen suggested Kazar washed herself and her clothing after the stabbing, although there was no direct evidence that she did so.
The only evidence of a motive was what Collazo told the jail inmate, that he did it to prove to Kazar that he could protect her. The law does not require prosecutors to prove motive.
Jensen suggested Collazo had plenty of reason to keep Scaccia-Lubeck alive. Collazo told the inmate that he was having sex with Scaccia-Lubeck, that she was paying him and a video showed her buying them beer just before the murder.
The jail inmate knew nothing of the crime, but details he provided matched what happened in Scaccia-Lubeck’s house—details only the killer would know, O’Leary said.
Jensen said Kazar’s motive, jealousy, was stronger, and her special knowledge made her a good suspect: “She knows how to use prostitution to wheedle her way into somebody’s home, into a compromising situation.”
Jensen dismissed Kazar’s testimony that Collazo told her he did it, saying she was trained by her life of prostitution to deceive.
But the prosecution’s evidence convinced the jury of nine men and three women.
O’Leary described Scaccia-Lubeck’s wounds, including 23 to the torso and six defensive wounds on her arm. He described a pathologist’s description of “three kill shots to the heart with that knife that ended Christine’s life.”
“You saw the wounds to her arms. You saw the tears to her clothing. … Christine was fighting back (against) whoever was killing her,” O’Leary told the jury.
O’Leary described Collazo’s DNA being found under Scaccia-Lubeck’s fingernails: “Christine is telling you who killed her. She’s defending her life, and the DNA on her arms and her hands are Collazo’s.”
A bipartisan bill championed by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., to strengthen protections for crime victims has passed, and Rock County organizations say the measure would help bring sustainability that will lead to expanded services for sexual assault and domestic abuse survivors.
The legislation bolsters the Victims of Crime Act by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund is replenished for survivor support organizations across the country. Groups rely heavily on VOCA funding each year to support operations and programming for survivors.
The bill would redirect money from federal deferred prosecution and nonprosecution agreements in resolved criminal cases for the crime victims fund, increasing funding needed for state victim compensation and assistance programs.
“We took on a problem and worked in a bipartisan way to fix it,” Baldwin said. “This lifeline for so many is rapidly running out of funds and now we have taken action to replenish it so people can continue accessing these critical resources. This innovative solution uses no new taxpayer dollars and now we have gotten the job done so that crime victims—including those who’ve suffered from domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual violence, and elder fraud and abuse, among others, continue to receive the services and assistance they need.”
VOCA funding is typically awarded through grants, and grant awards have decreased since 2019. In Wisconsin, victim assistance grants were cut by nearly 80% between 2018 and 2021. Funding in 2018 totaled over $58 million and estimated 2021 levels are standing at about $12.7 million, according to federal funding data. Statewide, VOCA awards account for $44 million in funding directly to local organizations. Further cuts to VOCA at the federal level would reduce funding levels to Wisconsin service providers by more than half in the coming years.
The county oversees a number of programs aimed at protecting and advocating for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Locally, Defy Domestic Abuse Beloit and the Sexual Assault Recovery Program work to help victims in the Rock County area.
Director of Survivor Empowerment Services Kelsey Hood-Christenson said the organization was “thrilled” by the legislation’s passing.
“Passing this fix is a remedy toward offering sustainability of the funding that will have a positive impact on survivors and organizations everywhere,” Hood-Christenson said. “We are celebrating the sustainability of our services and knowing the ongoing resources will be available to us will really help us grow our program.”
Hood-Christenson said the funding remedy would allow organizations in Rock County to “branch out” and address the many needs survivors have while potentially expanding programming to help keep survivors safe and supported.
“We’ve seen the ebb and flow of other funding sources to the programming, but we also knew that if the fix wasn’t there, we didn’t know whether what we were doing in the moment was sustainable for the future,” Hood-Christenson said. “Remedying that uncertain nature will let us address current needs of survivors now and in the future as we go forward.”
In 2019, SARP assisted 355 sexual assault survivors through 2,958 hours of individual service and 185 hours of group services. Last year, the number of people helped decreased, but Hood-Christenson said the intensity of each case caused service hours to increase.
In 2020, SARP assisted 286 survivors through 3,286 individual service hours and 116 group service hours.
In the first half of this year, SARP has helped 189 survivors through 1,892 service hours and 94 hours of group service.
Defy in Beloit assisted 172 domestic abuse survivors (1,296 service hours) in 2019, 224 in 2020 (1,522 service hours) and 123 survivors as of June of this year (667 service hours), county data shows.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, who led a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general in pushing for the VOCA fix, said the change would promote safety for all not only across the state, but the country.
“VOCA provides crucial funding for crime victim services programs around Wisconsin, making more resources available to victims, enhancing public safety and promoting justice,” Kaul said.
Executive Director for End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin Monique Minkens said the COVID-19 pandemic had complicated survivor support services and outreach by organizations because of the logistical challenges posed by reaching victims.
“The pandemic has isolated many survivors with abusive partners, and it’s more important than ever we ensure they have access to services,” Minkens said.
The bill will now head to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
Lottie Ann (Seals) Cotton
Bryan J. Harvey
John Clifford Hill
Wayne Allen Jacobsen
Jane E. Miles
Eric Bertian Sears
Mary Ellen Seifert
Steve Alan Stoltz
Patricia A. Wiggins
A Rock County Board member says he wants to attend meetings of a subcommittee vetting candidates seeking to fill an open supervisor seat. But even if he finds out when the committee meets, he said he has been told it’s unlikely either he or the general public will be allowed in the room.
Wayne Gustina, a county supervisor from Beloit, shares the concern of two advocates for open government that the process shouldn’t be shielded from public scrutiny.
Gustina said he has asked but not yet learned from county administration officials, board chairman Rich Bostwick or the county’s lawyer when a subcommittee assembled by Bostwick will interview the individuals vying to represent Janesville’s District 23.
The seat was vacated last month by Supervisor Doug Wilde and will be filled by an appointee until the next election in April 2022.
Gustina wants to know when the committee plans to meet because he said he would like to attend to hear what questions the panel asks the candidates and how they respond.
In recent years, Gustina said, committees formed to help vet and appoint new board members held meetings open to the public, including interested board members.
This time around, however, Gustina said he was told by a supervisor on the selection committee that board members other than Bostwick and those Bostwick picked to serve on the committee will not be allowed to attend the meetings.
Nevertheless, Gustina said he planned to attend, but as of Wednesday afternoon, he didn’t know when the meetings are scheduled—or even the identity of the committee members.
Gustina called the process “not very transparent at all.”
“As a county board supervisor, I would like to go there and sit in on the interviews. Not to ask questions but just to sit in. I want to make sure that they (the committee) ask the same identical questions of each candidate the same way; to know that things aren’t being swayed. And I’d get to know more about who the candidates are. And who’s on the actual committee.”
Last week, Rock County Corporation Counsel Rich Greenlee told an Adams Publishing Group reporter that under state and county rules, there is no requirement that county committees helping to fill open board seats must hold meetings open to the public.
Greenlee didn’t cite state statute that would exempt such meetings from the state open meeting law. He said that under county board rules, Bostwick as the board chair has the ultimate authority to select and recommend appointments for open board seats.
The Gazette reported last week that Tom Kamenick, a media lawyer as well as the president and founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project, thinks the county is breaking the law by holding committee meetings behind closed doors.
Bill Lueders, a journalist and open meetings advocate who leads the nonprofit Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, also told The Gazette that Rock County shouldn’t assume it is legal to create committees “that operate in secret.”
In 2017, the state Supreme Court decided that a governing body in Appleton had improperly closed meetings and barred the public from attending. The court ruled that any committee formed by a local government to handle government business is bound by then state open meetings law.
Bostwick did not immediately return a Gazette reporter’s call seeking comment Wednesday. Greenlee was also unavailable for comment.
In an email to The Gazette on Wednesday, Rock County Administrator Josh Smith said Bostwick had asked Rock County Board Supervisors Wes Davis, Ron Bomkamp, Mary Beaver and Russ Podzilni to be members of the ad hoc committee that will help Bostwick vet board supervisor candidates for the District 23 seat.
It is unclear whether Bostwick’s committee has any other members besides the four board supervisors named. The county hasn’t given notice of when or where the committee meetings would be held.
Smith in his email did not explain why the county believes it is allowed to hold board appointment committee meetings behind closed doors.
A District 11 supervisor seat which came open earlier this year has already been filled by appointment. Two people applied for the appointment. It’s not clear if Bostwick used the same committee and the same process to fill the seat.
In his email, Smith said dates had not yet been set for interviews of the six candidates.
Last week Smith revealed the six candidates to be: