Reality Check: Ad Attacking Gableman On Sex Offenders Makes Misleading Claims

A WISC-TV analysis found that an ad attacking Supreme Court challenger Michael Gableman as soft on sex offenders makes claims that are misleading.

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The Wisconsin Education Association Council is running the ad that claims Gableman gave lenient sentences to two sex offenders. The teacher’s union has endorsed Justice Louis Butler in the April 1 election.

The ad cites the case of a man convicted of sexually assaulting a girl. It claims he videotaped the attacks and made her watch them but that Gableman sentenced him to only one year in jail.

WISC-TV found that this claim needs clarification.

Mark Johnson pleaded guilty in Burnett County to sexually assaulting a young girl in 2001. Johnson was charged with two other felonies involving making the girl watch her attack and his sex acts on video, but Burnett County District Attorney Ken Kutz said investigators never found videotapes and charges related to them were dropped.

Kutz said Gableman sentenced the man to a stiffer sentence than he recommended.

Gableman sentenced Johnson to 7 ½ years in prison and 7 ½ years of extended supervision. But it’s true that Gableman stayed, or suspended, the sentence and required Johnson to spend a year in jail and 10 years on probation. If Johnson violates that probation, he would go back to prison and serve out all of his prison time.

The ad makes another claim relating to the Burnett County case of Jerry Ray Barrett: “Another child sexual predator gets convicted. Even his own family fears he was a threat to other children.”

A WISC-TV analysis found this claim also needs clarification.

Barrett was found guilt at trial of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl who was a family member. The ad says Barrett’s family feared he was a threat to other children.

But his wife of 10 years testified that he was a good provider and father and friends said he was “the kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back.”

Barrett’s daughter disagreed. In a letter to the court, Pamela Lundeen-Ott said she was concerned with her father being in contact with her three young daughters and wrote, “I hope for once my dad has to seriously pay for what he has done.”

“But Michael Gableman lets him off easy — sentencing him to a fraction of the time he could have gotten,” the ad says.

This claim needs clarification as well.

Barrett could have been sentenced to 60 years in prison for both counts of first-degree sexual assault. Gableman sentenced him to 11 years in prison and 14 years of extended supervision. The prosecutors involved in the case said the sentence was “appropriate for this crime.”

So far, 93 percent of the ad money spent in the Supreme Court race has been by third-party groups like WEAC.

Now, the state Government Accountability Board is considering regulating them. The chair of the board said he believes the candidates are no longer controlling the elections.