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Trial begins in Racine strangulation death

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staff, Gazette
April 30, 2013

— James Raab thought he heard a scream while working in his home workshop Oct. 14, 2010, but it didn't seem to be a scream of alarm.

"I shook it off. It was real faint. In that neighborhood, we have lots of kids that walk the (railroad) tracks. I kind of blew it off," Raab testified Monday in Racine County Court.

A short time later, his wife opened the door to shake rugs as they prepared to welcome guests. Next to a car in their long driveway she found the body of retired Lake Geneva teacher Sandra Teichow.

Teichow had been in Racine that afternoon handing out quarters in white boxes to people at a coin laundry. After her death, it was determined she probably was the anonymous person who had handed out $20 bills to needy clients at the Salvation Army headquarters the Christmas before.

The Raabs were the first witnesses to testify Monday in the murder trial of Wilbert L. Thomas, 68, who is charged with Teichow's strangulation death.

Thomas was identified as a suspect after investigators found a photo of Thomas, taken from behind him, on Teichow's camera, which was found under her arm. Teichow apparently took the photo before her death.

A police officer recognized Thomas' distinctive hairstyle and his four-footed cane from the photo. The feet on the cane were matched to wounds on Teichow's body, Dr. Lynda M. Biedrzycki, who conducted the autopsy, testified Monday.

"There was extreme evidence of violence," Biedrzycki said, describing "extensive trauma to the neck" and other injuries.

Biedrzycki, the Waukesha County medical examiner, concluded that Teichow's death was by strangulation. When asked by assistant district attorney Robert Repischak if it could have been accidental strangulation, Biedrzycki replied without hesitation, "No, this was a very violent death."

The bench trial is being heard without a jury by Judge Timothy Boyle. The case has moved slowly to trial, delayed by at least six competency hearings for Thomas.

Sheriff's deputies brought Thomas restrained in a wheelchair and wearing a mesh spit guard to court Monday.

Thomas chose to not attend two recent hearings and had told his attorneys, assistant public defenders Carl Johnson and Travis Schwantes, that he did not want to attend his trial, either, if he could not watch it on closed-circuit television from the jail. The Racine County Law Enforcement Center does not have facilities for closed circuit transmission of trials to the jail.

The defense attorneys and Repischak agreed at a hearing Friday that it was vital to have Thomas in the courtroom, regardless of his wishes. Judge Boyle ruled Friday that Thomas should appear "in order to preserve the integrity of the court and the integrity of the case … and the integrity of his counsel to assist in his defense."

Boyle said doctors had not noted any medical or physical issues that would prevent Thomas' appearance.

"I believe this is continued manipulation by Mr. Thomas with the integrity of the court," Boyle said.

He ordered that Thomas be examined by a doctor or a jail nurse every hour.

A short time after Thomas' second examination, Judge Boyle announced that Thomas' blood pressure was elevated, apparently because he had earlier refused to take his blood pressure medication.

He ordered Thomas be taken to the hospital to have the medication administered under court order, and he ordered the trial to continue without Thomas' participation.

Thomas was returned to the county jail from the hospital Monday. The trial is expected to last through the week.


 

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