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Infamously accused killer Laurie Bembenek's lawyer hopeful for pardon after new DNA findings

Posted at 8:00 AM, Jun 13, 2019

Could an infamous Wisconsin woman convicted of murder be pardoned from the grave? You may remember the name Laurie Bembenek, otherwise known as "Bambi."

Nine years after her death, her lawyer is asking for a pardon from the governor.

We looked at her case and her chances of getting a pardon.

This month, Gov. Evers is expected to name his Pardon Advisory Board. Already 1,000 requests have poured in after an eight-year hiatus under Gov. Walker. Will Bembenek's request be her final chapter?

Laurie Bembenek's case has Netflix written all over it, tragedy, murder mystery, alleged cover up, prison escape and untimely death.

A month before she died at age 52, Bembenek was unwavering about her innocence in an interview with TODAY'S TMJ4's Mike Jacobs.

"It's just not right," she said in Oct. 2010. "It's not right what they did. It's not right."

Bembenek was convicted in 1982 of killing her husband's ex-wife Christine Schultz, who was shot to death in her bed.

Bembenek escaped from Taycheeda - a prison for women in 1990. Three months later, she was found on the run in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Two years later, Bembenek agreed to plead no contest to second degree murder and was sentenced to time served and set free.

For the next couple of decades she tried to clear her name until her death in 2010.

Now, her attorney, Mary Woehrer, is making the case for Bembenek.

"Right now we are trying to seek a pardon, a posthumous pardon for Bembenek based upon new evidence that was garnered during DNA testing in 2002," said Woehrer.

Woehrer believes there is solid evidence to show that DNA results and ballistics testing on the murder weapon prove Bembenek was not the killer.

But if not Bembenek - then who?

Woehrer wants the state to take another look at the DNA from the murder scene.

"We believe we have identified the male DNA, that is the killer," said Woehrer. "It's now up to the state to do the comparison testing."

Woehrer hopes finding a match to the DNA will lead to the killer.

Several efforts have been made in the courts to clear Bembenek's name but all have failed. Woehrer says Bembenek's decision to plead no contest prevented her from seeking legal appeals. This may be the last chance.

"In the past it has been very unusual for a person to get a pardon in a homicide case," said Michael O'Hear. He teaches at Marquette University Law School and, like most people in Wisconsin, is familiar with the Bembenek case.

O'Hear has written several books that touch on multiple legal issues including pardons.

So just how much leeway does a governor have?

O'Hear says that in Wisconsin, the governor has almost unlimited power to decide whom he would like to give this forgiveness to.

Pardon boards generally look at the severity of the crime, redemption and potential benefits from a pardon - like someone seeking employment.

All of those are potential hangups in this case. Bembenek's case is all about wrongful conviction and finding the so-called real killer.

"If the governor believes somebody was wrongfully convicted, that would be a permissible basis for granting a pardon," said O'Hear. "However, that is not typically the way pardon power is used."

But with no relief from the courts, Bembenek's dying wish was a pardon.

"She definitely wanted that pardon," said Bembenek's lawyer. "She felt that was the last thing she could do was to clear the Bembenek name."

Bembenek did seek a pardon under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2009, but no decision was made on her case.