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Coronavirus postpones trials statewide, including trial of Hetland homicide suspect
Officer Hetland slaying

Coronavirus postpones trials statewide, including trial of Hetland homicide suspect

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RACINE — The trial of Dalquavis Ward, the man accused of fatally shooting Racine Police Officer John Hetland during an attempted armed robbery, has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A five-day jury trial was slated to begin on March 30; however, Racine County Circuit Court officials announced last week that all jury trials set to begin before April 12 are postponed, including Ward’s trial.

The decision came before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Sunday issued orders postponing all jury trials throughout the state, and temporarily suspending in-person proceedings statewide. The Supreme Court ruling affects all trials anticipated to begin through May 22.

“Our circuit court judges have taken strategic, pro-active steps to keep each of their courts operating as safely and smoothly as possible since the start of this public health emergency,” Chief Justice Patience Drake Roggensak said. “These orders provide another tool to use in that effort.”

Hetland, a 24-year Racine Police Department veteran, was killed the night of June 17 at Teezers Bar and Grill, 1936 Lathrop Ave., while trying to stop a robbery. He was off duty at the time. Prosecutors say Hetland and Ward got into a struggle when Hetland tried to intervene in the robbery. Ward reportedly shot Hetland once, killing him, before fleeing on foot.

Police arrested Ward in Milwaukee on June 27. The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, which led the investigation as an outside agency to avoid potential conflicts of interest, said DNA evidence left at the scene tied Ward to the robbery and shooting.

Ward is charged with first-degree intentional homicide with the use of a dangerous weapon, armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon. He faces life in prison for the homicide charge alone.

The new date of the five-trial trial has been scheduled to begin on Sept. 21 at the Racine County Law Enforcement Center, 717 Wisconsin Ave., court officials confirmed.

Remote technology implemented

According to the Wisconsin Supreme Court order, judges, commissioners and clerks of circuit court are required to use email, teleconferencing and video conferencing technology instead of in-person courtroom appearances through at least April 30.

The presiding judge of each circuit court — subject to the approval of the chief judge of the Judicial Administrative District, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals or the chief justice of the Supreme Court — is authorized to determine the manner in which the in-person emergency exceptions are to be conducted in their courts, with remote participation being required when practicable.

“The Supreme Court continues to monitor developments related to the COVID-19 public health emergency, and additional steps will be taken as necessary,” Chief Justice Roggensack said. “We are working actively with our judges, the legal community, as well as other branches of government and public health officials at the state and local level to meet this unprecedented challenge.”

At the county level, the circuit courts’ electronic filing system, eFile, is available for filing court documents and case processing. At the appellate level, the office of the Clerk of Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in Madison is still accepting filings to the clerk’s post office box.

Starting Monday, parties and attorneys must use mail or commercial delivery, except for emergency filings.

The Supreme Court also postponed oral arguments scheduled for March 30 and April 1.

More information will be posted on wicourts.gov when available.

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Alyssa Mauk covers breaking news and courts. She enjoys spending time with her family, video games, heavy metal music, watching YouTube videos, comic books and movies.

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