Opinion piece in the April 28, 2009, Tomahawk Leader:
Easter came and went this year in Tomahawk with nary a problem. For the first Easter in three years, our local law enforcement officers got to spend time with their families, instead of standing over the body of a young woman. The community celebrated a normal Easter as well – church services, family get-togethers. No police crime scene tape, no anxiety, no one getting news that their loved ones would not be coming home ever again.
And three days after the holiday, court was held in Lincoln County as one of the defendants in the 2007 Tracy Maurer murder case took a plea bargain. Young Katie Decker, 18, Rhinelander, was about to learn her fate for her involvement in the brutal murder of Maurer. And it seems, as usual, justice was swift.
Decker was not even 18 when her job of serving customers at a fast food restaurant in Rhinelander turned into a murder scheme plotted by her then-boyfriend, Seth Louis, now 26. Louis, Decker and Heather Ward, 20, another defendant facing charges, knew that Maurer knew their secrets – from breaking and entering and theft to underage sex. So the three of them hatched a plan, and we firmly believe when Decker supplied knives out of her parents’ kitchen she knew what was about to happen. No one hands a knife to a would-be killer thinking he is going to simply vandalize. The three were on a mission that night, to silence the only witness to their antics.
According to Louis, Decker was not there when the murder took place. Her parents prevented her from sneaking out of the house and joining in on the crime. Louis gave Decker a bag of his bloody clothes from the murder, which she hid under her bed. In the days following, a search of her bedroom by police turned up the incriminating clothing.
Decker was charged and convicted in Oneida County with aiding a felon. She received 10 months in the county jail with Huber privileges and probation. But when judgment came to pass in Lincoln County Court, everyone expected more; after all, she was about to admit her participation in a gruesome crime, one that took the life of Tracy Maurer.
But instead of a prison sentence, or even an equal year sentence in the county jail, a Lincoln County judge sentenced Decker to 90 days in the county jail. Additionally, she received 52 days’ credit. That’s less than three months of her life behind bars, in exchange for the life of Tracy Maurer.
A third or fourth offense drunk driver would have, and has received, a harsher sentence. Someone who fails to pay child support can expect much more, yet a person who admits their direct participation in a murder gets 90 days?
We have discussed in this column before not everyone deserves to go to prison, and rehabilitation is the goal of the courts. We were shocked when an arson and burglary defendant got a proverbial slap on the wrist (still a sentence harsher then Decker’s) after a multi-county burglary ring. But it floors us that a person who admits to the involvement in a murder gets county jail time with Huber release. In neighboring Marathon County, just sitting in a get-away car in an armed robbery will net you years in prison. Yet in Lincoln County, we yawn and go on.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the Maurer family as they move on from this tragedy. And we also hope and pray that young Katie Decker, a woman who has now been given two second chances at life, turns around and shows us she has earned that second chance.