Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Appeals court upholds Mercer murder sentence


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MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has upheld the sentences of one of the men convicted of killing a Lac du Flambeau man in Iron County two-and-a-half years ago.

Following a six-day trial in August 2018, a jury found Joseph Lussier guilty of being one of the two shooters in the December 2017 murder of Wayne Valliere Jr., in a remote part of Iron County north of Mercer, convicting him of being a party to the crimes of first-degree intentional homicide by use of a dangerous weapon and hiding a corpse.

Lussier, 29, of of Lac du Flambeau, was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the homicide charge, plus an additional five years for the weapons enhancer and a consecutive 11-year prison sentence for the hiding a corpse charge.

Lussier appealed his sentence, arguing then-Iron County Judge Patrick Madden was wrong to proceed to sentencing immediately after the jury delivered its verdict.

“Lussier argues the circuit court violated his constitutional right to present a defense because the court denied his request to adjourn his sentencing to a later date to permit him to present evidence, and instead sentenced him on the same day the jury returned its verdict,” the appellate decision reads. “In the alternative, he argues the court erroneously exercised its discretion by denying Lussier's request to adjourn sentencing.”

According to the decision, Madden informed the attorneys during an in-chamber conference prior to closing arguments that he intended to impose his sentence that day if the jury returned a guilty verdict. Lussier's attorney objected both in chambers and later on the record after the jury's verdict, according to the decision, and said he intended to present evidence during the sentencing. However, the appellate decision indicates Lussier didn't call anyone to speak on his behalf when presented with the opportunity during sentencing, and also didn't say anything in his defense.

The decision summarizes Lussier's position as arguing the court's “refusal to allow him to present evidence at sentencing,” violates his basic constitutional right to present a defense and that it was “fundamentally unfair for sentencing to continue as a one-sided proceeding.”

The state argued the constitutional rights to confront a defendant's accusers don't apply to a sentencing, according to the decision, and the defendant simply had the right to be present, speak on their own behalf, be represented by an attorney and be sentenced on correct information.

In the summary disposition of the case dated Tuesday, the appellate judges ruled Lussier failed to show the court's decision to proceed with sentencing violated his rights.

The court noted Lussier was allowed to present evidence in the sentencing when he had the opportunity to have family members speak on his behalf, and the fact he was unable to because his family left early didn't equate to the court prohibiting their testimony.

“In addition, Lussier does not identify what evidence or other information he was prevented from introducing as a result of the circuit court's decision to proceed directly to sentencing,” the decision reads, explaining the decision to uphold the sentencing. “To explain, Lussier does not assert he would have called someone to speak on his behalf, or explain what information anyone would have testified to, if sentencing had been delayed.”

Lussier was one of five men sentenced for their roles in Valliere's murder.

Richard Allen, 29, of Lac du Flambeau, was convicted along with Lussier in the August 2018 trial and was also sentenced to life in prison without parole. Online court records indicate he is appealing his sentence.

Lussier’s brother, James, 21, of Woodruff, was sentenced in January 2019 to 15 years in prison and another 15 years of extended supervision — along with another eight years of probation to be served after the first sentence — for his role in the killing. Online court records indicate he is appealing his sentence.

Curtis A. Wolfe, 28, of Lac du Flambeau, received 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision after his release for being a party to the crime of second degree reckless homicide, followed by five years in prison and three years of extended supervision for being a party to the crime of hiding a corpse in January for his role in Valliere’s murder.

Evan T. Oungst, 30, of Arbor Vitae, was sentenced to a total of 22 years in prison and 20 years of extended supervision on 12 felonies in a pair of cases related to the Valliere's murder. Online court records indicate he is appealing his sentence.