Judge asked to suppress murder confession

Northwestern Wisconsin's chief public defender submitted a 14-year-old document to the court today to support his argument that police should not have been talking to his client, Michael Mattson, in November when Mattson confessed that he murdere...

Northwestern Wisconsin's chief public defender submitted a 14-year-old document to the court today to support his argument that police should not have been talking to his client, Michael Mattson, in November when Mattson confessed that he murdered his girlfriend.

Mattson, 55, is charged with first-degree intentional murder in the Feb. 19, 1993, bludgeoning death of Myrna Jean Clemons, 50, in the home they shared in Superior's Allouez neighborhood.

The charge was brought by the Douglas County District Attorney's office after Superior police detectives said Mattson told them Oct. 23 that he grabbed a piece of popple firewood from the porch of their home and struck Clemons twice on the head. She died from blunt-force trauma to her skull that caused massive fracturing and hemorrhaging.

Chief public defender J. Patrick O'Neill Jr. was Mattson's attorney 14 years ago when a Douglas County court commissioner ruled the state didn't produce sufficient evidence that it was probable or possible that Mattson killed his girlfriend. At that time, Mattson denied killing Clemons. The charge was dismissed.

But in October, Mattson contacted Superior police and said remorse and guilt over killing his girlfriend had led to a cancer-like pain and he wanted to confess to her murder. The confession came after Superior police and the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation began work in 2004 to review cold-case homicides. More people were interviewed and new evidence gathered.


Douglas County Circuit Judge George Glonek presided over a hearing Tuesday in which O'Neill sought to suppress all statements Mattson provided police in October. O'Neill submitted a document that showed he was appointed Mattson's counsel when the Superior man was first charged with Clemon's murder 14 years ago.

After the hearing, O'Neill said he wants to suppress all of Mattson's statements to police "on the grounds that they violated his rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution -- that once you have an attorney appointed in a matter, law enforcement cannot contact him after that point in time."

If the original murder charge was dismissed, why would O'Neill think he continued to represent Mattson?

"That's one of the issues," O'Neill said. "Should the state be able to say, 'We're going to dismiss the charge and, OK, the detectives can go over and talk to him and we'll recharge him?' ''

Glonek gave Assistant Douglas County District Attorney James Boughner until July 20 to submit a written brief expressing his position on the matter. O'Neill will have until Aug. 23 to file a response brief.

Under Wisconsin law, police can have contact with a defendant if the defendant freely initiates that contact.

John McKenzie, a 25-year Douglas County sheriff's detective who now works part-time for the office, testified that he had many conversations with Mattson about the crime over the years. Mattson often initiated the conversation, McKenzie said.

McKenzie also took part in an interview in which he said he "got in his [Mattson's] face" in an attempt to find out how Clemons was killed. In August, while Mattson was in the St. Louis County Jail on a probation hold, he sent a letter to McKenzie speculating on suspects he thought could have murdered his girlfriend. O'Neill pointed out that Mattson mentioned his attorney in that letter.


Capt. Chad La Lor, Superior police investigation division commander, testified that Mattson cooperated with police during three interviews last October. He was given a Miranda advisory informing him of his rights at each interview and he never requested that an attorney be present, LaLor testified.

O'Neill suggested in his questioning of the officers that Mattson felt harassed by continually being questioned about the crime.

Mattson came to the sheriff's office to confess of his own accord, police said.

"Realistically, it's sort of which came first, the chicken or the egg?" O'Neill said rhetorically. "There were a variety of contacts over the years. So to say, 'Hey, he started it all with the letter,' as opposed to them starting it, our position is that this pattern of contacts, of approaching him, of talking about the murder, that essentially is state-initiated."

Mattson is facing a more serious crime with a longer potential prison sentence than when he was charged 14 years ago. Initially, he was charged with first-degree reckless homicide, punishable by a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. He's now charged with first-degree intentional murder, which is punished by a life prison sentence.

The trial is scheduled for Oct. 23. The defendant continues to be held in the Douglas County Jail.

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