A Milwaukee County judge running for a seat on the state’s Supreme Court, who has faced backlash over what critics describe as being soft on crime, suspended the prison sentence of a convicted domestic abuser before he went on to kill two people in 2019.
Janet Protasiewicz, a judge for the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in Wisconsin, will face off against Dan Kelly, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, next Tuesday.
In February 2020, Matthew J. Neumann was found guilty of killing two of his cleaning company employees and burning their bodies on a hunting property in East Troy he was leasing back in January 2019. He was sentenced to 72 years in prison.
Neumann had a long criminal history prior to the killings. In 2015, he was found guilty of second-offense drunken driving, a misdemeanor, and later sentenced to 45 days in jail.
Later that year, local law enforcement was called to Neumann's home after police said his wife alleged he was drunk with a gun and threatening to use it if she left the house, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Neumann surrendered to police after about 30 minutes, and police confiscated more than 60 guns from his basement. He pled guilty to endangering safety with a gun while intoxicated and disorderly conduct, both with a domestic abuse modifier, and he was prohibited from further gun ownership.
In January 2016, Protasiewicz suspended Neumann's 18-month prison term and placed Neumann on probation for two years under certain conditions, including "absolute sobriety" and taking anger management classes.
Six months later, while still on probation, Neumann was accused of stealing property and convicted of a misdemeanor. The Journal Sentinel reported that Neumann was still on probation in April 2018, when Protasiewicz sought to modify the 18-month sentence. A new judge on the case, however, noted that Neumann had been cited for helping a woman burn her ex-boyfriend's car and denied the request, the report said.
Less than a year later, Neumann was convicted for killing his two employees.
Wisconsin voters started casting ballots in the Supreme Court election on March 21. While the race is technically non-partisan, Kelly was endorsed by former President Trump in 2020, and Protasiewicz received the endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week.
The winner will determine majority control of the court, with the fate of abortion access, legislative redistricting, voting rights, rules for elections and other major issues at stake.
The winner will also be in place heading into the 2024 presidential election in battleground Wisconsin. The court, currently controlled 4-3 by conservatives, came within one vote of overturning President Joe Biden’s narrow win in 2020.
Kelly criticized Protasiewicz for "weak-on-crime sentencing" during their first and only debate last Tuesday, citing her sentencing of 23-year-old Jovian Reese, who was convicted of sexually assaulting his cousin in 2018. While Reese faced a maximum sentence of 10 years, Protasiewicz gave him 14 months in prison, the Daily Mail reported.
Protasiewicz defended her record and said the case had been "cherry-picked." When asked in February whether she would have ruled any differently on any past cases, she said no.
"Every single case is unique," she said. "Integrity is one of my hallmarks. Absolute integrity. I looked at what I looked at in each one of those unique cases and made a decision that I thought was appropriate."
In another case, Protasiewicz gave the minimum recommended prison sentence to a man accused of sexually assaulting his 13-year-old niece while she slept.
Prosecutors sought three to five years in prison followed by seven years of extended supervision for Nicholas J. Grzybowski, but Protasiewicz handed down three years imprisonment with credit for 65 days already served and five months of extended supervision.
Protasiewicz’s campaign did not respond to Fox News Digital’s request.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.