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Milberg trial: Closing arguments begin this afternoon

ELLSWORTH -- Closing arguments in the trial of a Centuria woman accused of using a Facebook messaging app while driving on the day her daughter and two nieces died in a car crash will begin this afternoon after the defense rested its case without calling any witnesses.

Pierce County District Attorney Sean Froelich called his last three witnesses Wednesday morning before resting the state’s case against 35-year-old Kari Milberg. Immediately thereafter, defense attorney Aaron Nelson said he would call no witnesses. He moved to dismiss the case, which Judge Joseph Boles denied.

Nelson announced that Milberg was giving up her right to testify on her own behalf and asserting her right to remain silent. When the judge asked Nelson if he thinks Milberg understands her rights and her decision, he said no.

“No, I don’t,” Nelson said. “I made my position known at the competency hearing...I don’t know what else to add.”

Before breaking for lunch, the judge, attorneys and Milberg, without the jury, hashed out details in a jury and verdict instruction conference.

Court was set to reconvene after a lunch break.

Trooper Betley testimony

The first state witness to testify Wednesday morning was Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Trent Betley, who has close to 1,000 hours in accident reconstruction training.

He was called to the accident scene Dec. 12, 2013 to document information and analyze the crash.

“Basically I just reconstruct a crash and bring it back and give the story of what happened with a crash,” Betley said.

The shoulders of the highway that day were covered in snow and slush, Betley said, but the roadway itself was dry. He also said he doesn’t think environmental or road conditions contributed to the crash. He said the asphalt was dry, maintained and had no defects. The right rear tire was at minimum legal tread depth, and that coupled with the slush on the shoulder could’ve been a factor in losing control, Betley said. Slush wouldn’t have been an issue if she hadn’t gone over the fog line, he added.

Under cross-examination, Betley admitted that if the roadway was wet, it could have been a contributing factor to the crash. Nelson said eyewitnesses claimed the road was wet, including police officers. Betley said emergency vehicles were driving on the shoulder at the accident scene, bringing moisture onto the roadway. He then conceded it could not be ruled out that if emergency vehicles were driving around at the scene, they could have worn away any snow, ice or debris that could have contributed to the crash.

Other testimony

Boles admitted he was concerned with the accuracy of GPS coordinates pulled from Milberg’s cellphone data in relation to time stamps and Facebook messages.

Wisconsin State Patrol inspector Derrek Hanson, who admitted he’s not a GPS expert, said he took the GPS coordinates and times from data downloaded from Milberg’s cellphone, plugged them into Google Earth and plotted the points on a map. Of the seven to eight he plotted out of 90 to 100 coordinates recorded, they all fell on Hwy. 35, he said. He then took those and compared them to the Facebook chat messages. The last GPS location and time was one mile west of the crash scene, according to the cellphone data, Hanson said.

He said he has no idea how precise or accurate the GPS locations are, no idea of a margin of error or if the times from the GPS coordinates are in perfect sync with the times recorded in the Facebook app. Nelson questioned whether he consulted with a Verizon representative or GPS expert. The answer was no.

“The problem I have really has to do with the accuracy,” Boles said. “He did just exactly what you would expect him (Hanson) to do. But without knowing the accuracy of that I don’t see how it could come in. Because obviously we can’t verify if it’s accurate.”

The judge then denied the motion to include Hanson’s GPS testimony, though he did testify that he saw a Facebook message on Milberg’s phone while recovering data, though it happened so fast he couldn’t make out the words. He estimated it was two to four words in length.

“Before I even realized what I was seeing, it was gone,” Hanson said.

Pierce County Sgt. Cassandra Andersen also testified as to the exact time she took the 911 call Dec. 12, 2013.

Inspector Friederick’s report

A question arose yesterday of a report from Wisconsin State Patrol inspector Brandon Friederick, which Nelson and Froelich both claimed to have never seen before yesterday.

The report included interview notes with the driver of the vehicle struck by Milberg’s SUV and a statement by that driver that the road was slippery.

After searching, Froelich’s staff found the report on a CD, which had been given to Nelson, though a printed copy had not been made. The file was corrupted when downloaded into Nelson’s server.

Sarah Nigbor

Sarah J. Nigbor serves as a regional editor for RiverTown Multimedia, a position she began in April 2017. She joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News, before being appointed editor of the Pierce County Herald in Febraury 2015. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. 

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