Jefferson County judge to probe 1988 drowning
- Associated Press
- October 6, 2013 - 12:00 PM
JEFFERSON, Wis. — A Jefferson County judge will hold a secret hearing to determine if criminal charges could be filed in the 1988 death of an 8-year-old boy previously attributed to accidental drowning.
Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Weston decided to conduct the proceedings into Artis Echoles' death, according to The Journal Times (http://bit.ly/1bAIZoP). The "John Doe" hearing, similar to a grand jury proceeding combined with a coroner's inquest, is set for Dec. 5 in Jefferson.
"It's gonna be an arrest. I got faith in her," said the boy's mother, Carmin White, 51, from her Racine home. "This lady has stood by me since I wrote to her back in January."
Artis, who was afraid of water, died June 18, 1988, while he was vacationing with his foster family at the Bark River Campground in Jefferson County.
Artis disappeared after being seen near one of the ponds on the day his foster family arrived at the campground, Jefferson County sheriff's reports show. Witnesses provided conflicting statements to deputies — some saying that Artis walked away from the pond with a blonde-haired child.
But three children later told investigators they saw a man "throwing Artis into the water and holding his head under water." The man was allegedly trying to make him swim, according to sheriff's reports. Echoles was found the next morning, 45 minutes after divers began searching the pond, according to sheriff's reports.
Weston ordered the case reopened in January. But District Attorney Susan Happ found no evidence to suggest a crime was committed. In Happ's report, she noted that the only charge not barred today by the statute of limitations would be first-degree intentional homicide.
After reviewing Happ's report, Wisconsin statutes and legal precedent, Weston sent a letter to Happ, dated June 7, explaining she believed a second-degree murder charge could be prosecuted at any time. But the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office declined, for a second time, to file criminal charges.
White has said Artis was hyperactive and could have explosive outbursts, so she sought help with her son and he was placed in foster care.
"I lived the life of drugs, going in and out of prison, because it almost killed me," White said of her son's death, acknowledging her lengthy criminal record. "I feel like, as a mother, I let my son down. I let him down in life, but I will not let him down in death."
© 2013 Star Tribune