Fodness pleads guilty — Sept. trial cancelled

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE — Former Colfax resident Michael Fodness has pleaded guilty to one felony count of child enticement by giving or selling drugs as part of a plea deal with the Dunn County district attorney’s office.

Fodness, along with his attorney Thomas Starr, appeared in Dunn County Circuit Court September 6 to enter his guilty plea.

As part of the plea deal, the remaining charges against the 46-year-old Fodness were dismissed, although the dismissed charges will be read in at the time of sentencing.

“Dismissed charges read in at the time of sentencing” means the judge can consider those charges when sentencing Fodness for the felony count of child enticement and for determining restitution.

Fodness was originally charged with ten felonies and nine misdemeanors, including multiple felony counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child; child enticement by giving or selling drugs and by exposing a sex organ; intimidating a witness; repeated sexual assault of the same child; and misdemeanor counts of sex with a child 16 years or older; bail jumping; and knowingly violating a child abuse injunction.

Dunn County Assistant District Attorney Andrew Maki is recommending a sentence of 15 years that would include an initial prison sentence of seven years followed by eight years of probation with conditions.

Fodness is expected to receive credit for time already served. He has been held in the Dunn County jail since October 15, 2010.

The incident to which Fodness pleaded guilty occurred in April of 2009 when he enticed a 16-year-old girl into a secluded area and delivered or sold drugs to her.

When asked, Fodness told the court he’d had sufficient time to talk to his attorney and that he was satisfied with Starr’s representation.

Five attorneys

Thomas Starr is the fifth attorney in the Fodness case.

Shirlene Perrin, who was assigned to the Fodness case in April of 2011, was allowed by the court to withdraw from the case in April of this year because of medical issues involving her daughter.

Fodness also has been represented by Francis Rivard.

A preliminary hearing had been scheduled on January 3, 2011, but Fodness circumvented the hearing by firing Rivard, who had been assigned to represent Fodness by the public defender’s office in December of 2009.

Kerry Kelm served on the case for two months, from January to March of 2011.

John Bachman served for less than two weeks in March of 2011 and withdrew because of a conflict of interest.

Four jury trials

The Fodness case has been scheduled to go to a jury trial four different times.

A jury trial for Fodness in Ladysmith in February of this year ended on the second day when Judge Stewart declared a mistrial.

A jury trial scheduled last August was postponed when Fodness was stricken with appendicitis.

A jury trial scheduled in February of 2012 was rescheduled to August when both the district attorney and Perrin agreed they needed more time to prepare.

The latest trial was scheduled to begin September 16 and run through September 20.

In May of 2011, Fodness asked for a change of venue in the case. Judge Stewart granted the change of venue because of the number of potential alleged victims and their family members. The court district’s chief judge and the district court administrator selected Rusk County as the location for the Fodness trial.

The Fodness case originally was assigned to the Honorable Rod W. Smeltzer, but in March of 2011, the case was re-assigned to Judge Stewart.

Preliminary

During a preliminary hearing in March of 2011, a number of young women testified that they had met Fodness when they were 14 or 15, that he had given them drugs or alcohol, and that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with them numerous times.

At the time of the preliminary hearing, the women who testified ranged in age from teenagers to young adults to women who were closer to Fodness’s age.

During the September 6 court hearing, in addition to accepting Fodness’s guilty plea and dismissing the other charges, Judge Stewart also ordered a pre-sentence investigation.

Starr indicated to the court that he was asking for an independent pre-sentence investigation as well.

A two-hour sentencing hearing is scheduled for Fodness in Dunn County Circuit Court on November 8 at 9 a.m.

Fodness faces a maximum penalty of up to 25 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

He remains in custody at the Dunn County jail on a $100,000 cash bail.