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Stanley woman to enter insanity plea in Dunn County stabbing death

A Chippewa County woman accused of fatally stabbing a man in Dunn County in March intends to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, according to court records.

Ezra J. McCandless, 21, of 36794 25th Ave., Stanley, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide in the stabbing death of Alexander L. Woodworth, 24, of Eau Claire.

Authorities found Woodworth dead, stabbed 16 times, in a vehicle parked on a farm road in the town of Spring Brook on March 23, according to a criminal complaint. McCandless told authorities Woodworth had attacked her and carved the word “boy” into her arm, but she took the knife from him and stabbed him multiple times, according to the complaint.

McCandless previously pleaded not guilty.

She wishes to change her plea to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, her attorney Aaron Nelson of Hudson-based Nelson Defense Group said in a Oct. 31 letter to Dunn County Judge James Peterson, according to court records.

In May, according to an evaluation from a clinical psychologist, McCandless underwent a competency exam — and was declared mentally fit to stand trial, Peterson said at a May status conference.

Peterson ordered McCandless’ mental health reports to be sealed at a Nov. 20 hearing.

An oral ruling Dec. 3 and a motion hearing Feb. 7 are her last court dates before a jury trial scheduled for April 2-22.

As of Monday, McCandless was in custody at the Dunn County Jail, held on a $250,000 cash bond.

About the case

Around 4:15 p.m. on March 22, law enforcement received a call from Don Sipple, who lives on the E7600 block near the scene. A young woman, muddy, bloody, in torn clothes and wearing no shoes, had come to Sipple’s house, according to the complaint.

The woman, described as upset and crying, was taken to a Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Eau Claire where she was later identified as Ezra McCandless, according to the complaint.

At the scene, authorities found a folding pocket knife, foot tracks in the snow and the back cover of a cell phone.

Dunn County Sgt. Scott McRoberts testified he saw the word “boy” carved into her left arm, punctures on her inner groin and upper right thigh and scratches on one hand.

The angle of the wounds indicated they could be self-inflicted, according to a doctor who examined McCandless on March 22, and the letters carved in her left arm were oriented for her to look at. McCandless admitted to medical staff that she has self-harmed in the past, according to the complaint.

McCandless admitted to being at Woodworth’s home and said they left to go to Owen Park in Eau Claire, where she claimed Woodworth attacked her and cut “boy” into her arm, according to the complaint.

On March 23, investigators saw a muddy road leading off to the south of 430th Avenue near Sipple’s home.

One investigator found a single set of bare footprints in the mud and tire tracks leading up the road.

The detectives found McCandless’s 2003 Chevy Impala up the road. The driver’s side rear door was standing open and a Woodworth was lying partially out the door, according to the complaint.

On March 24, McCandless told investigators she drove to Woodworth’s house to return some things to him. They wanted to talk with each other, and McCandless said they ended up on a dirt road in Dunn County where they got stuck in the mud, according to the complaint.

She said Woodworth attacked her in the vehicle, but she was able to take the blade from Woodworth and admitted to stabbing him “anywhere and everywhere,” according to the complaint.

McCandless later said she cut the word into her arm after she stabbed Woodworth.


'Flawless': NASA craft lands on Mars after perilous journey

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A NASA spacecraft designed to drill down into Mars’ interior landed on the planet Monday after a perilous, supersonic plunge through its red skies, setting off jubilation among scientists who had waited in white-knuckle suspense for confirmation to arrive across 100 million miles of space.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, leaped out of their chairs, screaming, dancing and hugging, upon learning that InSight had arrived on Mars, the graveyard for a multitude of previous missions.

“Touchdown confirmed!” a flight controller called out just before 3 p.m. EST, instantly dispelling the anxiety that had gripped the control room as the spacecraft made its six-minute descent.

Because of the distance between Earth and Mars, it took eight minutes for confirmation to arrive, relayed by a pair of tiny satellites that had been trailing InSight throughout the six-month, 300-million-mile (482-million-kilometer) journey.

The two satellites not only transmitted the good news in almost real time, they also sent back InSight’s first snapshot of Mars just 4½ minutes after landing.

The picture was speckled with dirt because the dust cover was still on the lander’s camera, but the terrain at first glance looked smooth and sandy with just one sizable rock visible — pretty much what scientists had hoped for. Better photos are expected in the days ahead.

It was NASA’s — indeed, humanity’s — eighth successful landing at Mars since the 1976 Viking probes, and the first in six years. NASA’s Curiosity rover, which arrived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.

“Flawless,” declared JPL’s chief engineer, Rob Manning. “This is what we really hoped and imagined in our mind’s eye,” he added. “Sometimes things work out in your favor.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, presiding over his first Mars landing as the space agency’s boss, said: “What an amazing day for our country.”

InSight, part of a $1 billion international mission, features a German-led mechanical mole that will burrow down 16 feet (5 meters) to measure the planet’s internal heat. Nothing has ever dug deeper into Mars than several inches. The lander also has a French-made seismometer for measuring quakes, if they exist on our smaller, geologically calmer neighbor.

Another experiment will calculate Mars’ wobble to reveal the makeup of the planet’s core.

“In the coming months and years even, history books will be rewritten about the interior of Mars,” said JPL’s director, Michael Watkins.

Many Mars-bound spacecraft launched by the U.S., Russia and other spacefaring countries have been lost or destroyed over the years, with a success rate of just 40 percent, not counting InSight.

NASA went with its old, straightforward approach this time, using a parachute and braking engines to get InSight’s speed from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) when it pierced the Martian atmosphere, about 77 miles (114 kilometers) up, to 5 mph (8kph) at touchdown. The danger was that the spacecraft could burn up in the atmosphere or bounce off it.

The three-legged InSight settled on the western side of Elysium Planitia, the plain that NASA was aiming for. Project manager Tom Hoffman said the spacecraft landed close to the bull’s-eye, but NASA did not have yet have the final calculations.

He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth “parking lot” he was hoping for.

Museums, planetariums and libraries across the U.S. held viewing parties to watch the events unfold at JPL. NASA TV coverage was also shown on the giant screen in New York’s Times Square, where crowds huddled under umbrellas in the rain.

The 800-pound (360-kilogram) InSight is stationary and will operate from the same spot for the next two years, the duration of a Martian year. Its first job was to get a fast picture out. The next task was unfolding its solar panels. NASA wanted to wait 16 minutes for the dust to settle before attempting that; it was awaiting word Monday night on how that went.

It will take months to set up and fine-tune the instruments. Lead scientist Bruce Banerdt said he doesn’t expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring, and it may take the entire mission to really get the goods.

“It’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to start seeing marsquakes,” Hoffman said.

Mars’ well-preserved interior provides a snapshot of what Earth may have looked like following its formation 4.5 billion years ago, according to Banerdt. While Earth is active seismically, Mars “decided to rest on its laurels” after it formed, he said.

By examining and mapping the interior of Mars, scientists hope to learn why the rocky planets in our solar system turned out so different and why Earth became a haven for life.

Still, there are no life detectors aboard InSight. NASA’s next mission, the Mars 2020 rover, will prowl for rocks that might contain evidence of ancient life.

The question of whether life ever existed in Mars’ wet, watery past is what keeps driving NASA back to the fourth rock from the sun.


GM to lay off up to 14K workers, close as many as 5 plants

DETROIT — General Motors will cut up to 14,000 workers in North America and put five plants up for possible closure as it abandons many of its car models and restructures to focus more on autonomous and electric vehicles, the automaker announced Monday.

The reductions could amount to as much as 8 percent of GM’s global workforce of 180,000 employees.

The restructuring reflects changing North American auto markets as manufacturers continue to shift away from cars toward SUVs and trucks. In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs. That figure was about 50 percent cars just five years ago.

GM is shedding cars largely because it doesn’t make money on them, Citi analyst Itay Michaeli wrote in a note to investors.

“We estimate sedans operate at a significant loss, hence the need for classic restructuring,” he wrote.

The reduction includes about 8,000 white-collar employees, or 15 percent of GM’s North American white-collar workforce. Some will take buyouts while others will be laid off.

At the factories, around 3,300 blue-collar workers could lose jobs in the U.S. and another 2,600 in Canada, but some U.S. workers could transfer to truck or SUV factories that are increasing production. The cuts mark GM’s first major downsizing since shedding thousands of jobs in the Great Recession.

The company also said it will stop operating two additional factories outside North America by the end of next year, in addition to a previously announced plant closure in Gunsan, South Korea.

General Motors Co.’s pre-emptive strike to get leaner before the next downturn likely will be followed by Ford Motor Co., which has said it is restructuring and will lay off an unspecified number of white-collar workers. Toyota Motor Corp. also has discussed cutting costs, even though it’s building a new assembly plant in Alabama.

GM isn’t the first to abandon much of the car market. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles got out of small and midsize cars two years ago, while Ford announced plans to shed all cars but the Mustang sports car in the U.S. in the coming years.

Factories that could be closed include assembly plants in Detroit and Oshawa, Ontario, and Lordstown, Ohio, as well as transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore.


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Schimel: Private event in public space needs alcohol license

MADISON — Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel believes private events in public spaces require liquor licenses, drawing fire from a conservative law firm that fears such a stance could have a chilling effect on tailgating and wedding barn operations.

Legislators have been grappling with the question for months. Wisconsin statutes prohibit owners of public places from allowing booze without a liquor license, however the statutes don’t define what constitutes a public place. That definition is crucial since liquor licenses can cost anywhere from $10 to $10,500, depending on the type, and municipalities limit the number they issue.

Republican lawmakers tried to pass a bill last session that would have required private property owners who rent out space for an event to have a liquor license before allowing alcohol to be consumed on the premises. The bill won support from the powerful Tavern League of Wisconsin and wineries, but it died in the Senate after the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a conservative-leaning law firm, complained that it could end tailgating.

State Rep. Rob Swearingen, chairman of a special joint legislative committee studying alcohol enforcement, asked Schimel on Nov. 8 for his interpretation of the statutes.

Schimel responded with a Nov. 16 letter to Swearingen saying there’s no difference between a public place that hosts an event open to everyone and a place rented out to the public. Essentially, Schimel concluded that events limited to invited guests require liquor licenses before alcohol can be consumed on the premises.

Schimel called his response an “informal analysis,” saying he can issue formal legal opinions only at the request of a legislative chamber, legislative leaders or state agency heads.

WILL issued a news release Monday threatening to sue if state regulators adopt Schimel’s stance as a basis for enforcement. The firm called the analysis an “extreme interpretation.”

The release didn’t mention tailgating, but it warned that the analysis represents a major threat to the wedding barn industry.

Rick Esenberg, WILL’s president and general counsel, said in the release that the Tavern League wants to hurt competitors and that Schimel shouldn’t interpret the law to help the league.

Tavern League lobbyist Scott Stenger said in an email to The Associated Press that Schimel’s analysis isn’t a surprise since it upholds the law.

“More importantly, it is what the public expects from those who provide alcohol — to be licensed,” Stenger wrote. “We have nothing against wedding/party barns and wish them success competing by the same rules and laws everyone else does. They simply need to acquire the appropriate license and they can continue doing business.”

The Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association, which promotes farm tourism such as wedding barns, issued a statement saying “business organizations” are trying to manipulate competition and government involvement creates winners and losers as well as distorts the economy.

Swearingen, a Rhinelander Republican, said his committee has focused on how to handle unlicensed venues. Most members felt venues need to be licensed and the panel was considering legislation to force that, he said. A bill probably isn’t necessary now given Schimel’s analysis, he said. He echoed Stenger, saying venues just need to get licensed and nobody will go out of business.

Right-wing groups have been trying to “muddy the waters” by saying legislators wanted to ban tailgating, he added.

“Nobody ever, ever intended to limit tailgating,” he said.


Schimel