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Storm, tornado damage reported; Grandma fined for stealing lobsters while grandson watches; 10 more state news briefs

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More damage reports are coming in after high winds and at least one tornado hit southern Wisconsin close to midnight.

Just over 30,000 electric customers throughout Wisconsin began this new day without power after high winds, heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes hit the state since yesterday afternoon.

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Wisconsin Power and Light reported just over 10,000 outages as of 5:30 a.m. today. About half of those were in Grant County where several buildings were damaged at UW-Platteville late last night.

The Wisconsin Public Service utility reported almost 6,300 outages, mostly due to wind damage. Just over 2,300 outages were in the Northwoods community of Pelican Lake.

Wind gusts surpassed 50 mph in several parts of the state. 

The Dane County Emergency Management office said it had at least 350 reports of storm damage -- mainly in Verona and into the southwest side of Madison. Verona police said at least 15 homes had severe damage there, and Verona's Country View Elementary School partially collapsed.

The National Weather Service says it will send a team through southwest Wisconsin today to assess the damage and see what really caused it.

Madison Gas and Electric reported almost 3,000 customers out. We Energies had just over 6,000 customers out, mostly in the Milwaukee area. Xcel Energy reported 4,600 outages in western and northwest Wisconsin.

Weather service meteorologist Steve Davis said a tornado most likely traveled from Green County northward into Dane County. From what he's seen, Davis said he couldn't imagine it not being a tornado. If that's true, it would be the first twister to fall in Wisconsin in 2014.

At UW-Platteville, officials now say at least five campus buildings were damaged. Only essential employees are being allowed there today.

The storms dumped a lot of rain and caused tree damage at Eagle and West Bend before leaving the state. Stoughton in southern Dane County had 2.2 inches. Valders in Manitowoc County had 1.8 inches over the past day. More storms are in the forecast for today.

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Grandmother, former probation officer fined for stealing lobsters

A former state probation officer is paying almost $600 in fines and court costs for stealing lobsters from a grocery store in Crandon where her grandson used to work.

Karen Boodry, 55, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Forest County. A theft charge was dropped in a plea deal.

Authorities said Boodry stole a pair of lobsters from Schaefer's Food Mart in Crandon last year while her grandson Donald Kilbury looked on. She told officers at the time she did not remember what happened, because she had been drinking.

Charges were dropped against Kilbury. State officials said Boodry retired from her corrections post in late January. 

--Raymond Neupert, WSAU, Wausau

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Walker, Burke bicker over gay marriage stand

Gov. Scott Walker and his main Democratic election challenger are trading barbs over the governor's recent pullback of his longtime opposition to gay marriage.

In Madison yesterday, Walker, a Republican, repeated what he said last week -- that he voted for state's constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in 2006 but it's not relevant now because a governor cannot sign or veto a constitutional change. He repeated that the issue is in the courts and out of his hands.

At a separate appearance in Madison, Walker's main challenger Mary Burke accused the governor of waffling. Burke called it a "critical issue" and said Wisconsinites want to know where their governor stands. She said she would want to see gay marriages go forward if she's elected.

Walker said Burke needs a lesson in what he calls "Government 101." He said she apparently doesn't understand that a governor cannot "arbitrarily" change the state Constitution.

Earlier this month, Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional. Her ruling is on hold while it's being appealed.

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Most of state’s crops now looking good

Wisconsin farmers took advantage of dry weather last week to make lots of hay and catch up with their crop planting.

Almost three-fourths of the state's first hay crop in – 25% more than a week ago and 4% more than the average for the past five years. Crop reporters say both the quantity and quality of the hay are good. Some call it the best cutting in years.

Ninety-six percent of the Wisconsin corn has been planted, just one point behind the norm. Eighty-two percent of the crop is in good to excellent shape. Soybean planting is now ahead of schedule by around 2%. Officials said 93% of the beans are in the ground, and 77% are rated good to excellent. Eighty-seven percent of Wisconsin's oats are good-to-excellent and so is 58% of the state's winter wheat.

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Gillett man charged with taking McDonald’s manager hostage

A man accused of holding a McDonald's manager hostage in Wittenberg has pleaded not guilty after he was found mentally competent to stand trial.

Travis Keiler, 29, of Gillett surrendered after a two-hour long standoff April 22 at a combined McDonald’s and Shell gas station off Hwy. 29.

Keiler is charged with in Shawano County with taking hostages, failing to comply with officers, disorderly conduct and illegally carrying a concealed weapon. His next court date has not been set.

Keiler told officers he had just quit a job in De Pere and was driving around with a stolen gun before stopping in Wittenberg. At the time of the incident, officials said Keiler wanted to get into a confrontation with police. He gave others a chance to leave before holding the McDonald's manager hostage for an hour. Nobody was hurt.

--Larry Lee, WSAU, Wausau

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Wisconsin representatives ask for recognition of 500 same-sex marriages

The nation's attorney general is being asked to give federal recognition to the 500-plus same-sex weddings in Wisconsin this month.

Among other things, it could give those couples a federal income tax break by letting them file jointly.

U.S. Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Wisconsin House Democrats Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday, asking him to legalize the marriages performed last week. The marriages were performed after Federal Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that the state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, but before she put her ruling on hold until it's appealed.

The four Democrats said Holder previously recognized marriages in Michigan and Utah under similar circumstances.

The same-sex couples who got married last week could qualify for Social Security survivor benefits and can help foreign spouses with immigration issues. If they're federal employees or military personnel, their spouses could get health, retirement and other benefits.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice says she's monitoring the Wisconsin developments and is not commenting further for now.

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Natural resources chair resigns early

The head of the Wisconsin Senate's natural resources committee is leaving now instead of at the end of the year like he originally planned.

Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn) resigned yesterday from the upper house. He said he's pursuing a "new opportunity," but he had not said what it is.

Kedzie announced a month ago he would retire after 16 years in the Legislature -- four in the Assembly and the last 12 in the Senate.

Assembly Republican Steve Nass of Whitewater and Democrat Dan Kilkenny are running for Kedzie's seat this fall. It will stay vacant until January.

Should any important natural resource issues come up between now and then, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he'll chair the resources committee in Kedzie's place. Fitzgerald is also taking Kedzie's place on the State Building Commission and a study panel on state-supported programs.

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Man who killed girlfriend gets 32-year prison term

A Kenosha man will spend 32 years in prison for killing his girlfriend and then driving to Chicago where he left the victim's body in the trunk.

Matthew McDowell, 41, must also spend 11 years under extended supervision once he gets out. He was sentenced yesterday in Kenosha County Circuit Court for the death of 30-year-old Erin Ziemendorf of West Allis last October.

McDowell told police he accidentally killed Ziemendorf by putting his hands around her neck. He said he heard a cracking sound, and when he realized his girlfriend was dead, he placed her body in a duffel bag, drove it to Chicago and left the body and the vehicle at a bus station near the city's downtown Loop.

Officials said the argument was about money, their relationship and an impending trip to Hawaii. McDowell pleaded guilty to charges of reckless homicide and hiding a corpse.

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Police say man who stabbed, put cab driver in trunk fled without paying fare last year

A $500,000 bond was set yesterday for a man suspected of carjacking a taxi in Grant County, putting its driver in the trunk and killing the victim in a crash at the end of a high-speed police chase near La Crosse.

Timmy Johnson Jr., 25, has been arrested but not charged in the death last week of 79-year-old Merle Forbes.

A La Crosse judge found yesterday there was probable cause for charges that include causing death by reckless driving. Also, prosecutors say Johnson could face homicide charges in either La Crosse or Grant counties.

His next court appearance is set for Thursday. Officials said he was released from jail just hours before he robbed and stabbed Forbes.

Police found the stolen cab in downtown La Crosse early last Friday. A chase ensued, and the cab rear-ended another vehicle before flipping over. Forbes died while in the trunk. Three people in the other unit had minor injuries.

His lawyer said Johnson had unresolved mental health issues and did not get his medications while in the Grant County Jail.

The La Crosse Tribune said it was not Johnson's first brush with Forbes. Last August, Forbes' cab reportedly drove Johnson from Darlington to Boscobel, and Johnson skipped out before he could pay the $90 fare.

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Marriage license fees refunded in Appleton

Same-sex couples in Appleton who bought marriage licenses but could not have weddings will get the entire cost of their licenses refunded.

About a half dozen couples said the Outagamie County clerk sold them licenses but would not waive the state's normal five-day waiting period to get married. As a result, they couldn't get married before Federal Judge Barbara Crabb re-imposed the state's ban on gay marriage while her ruling that it's unconstitutional is appealed.

The Appleton area couples got back the state's share of the $100 marriage license fee, but the clerk's office kept the county's $45 share. Yesterday, County Executive Tom Nelson's office said it would refund the $45 from its budget.

Most county clerks granted waivers from the waiting period, knowing that the window for same-sex marriages would be short.

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Judge orders release of some John Doe investigation records

A federal appeals judge has ordered the public release of documents from the John Doe investigation into the state's recall elections.

Judge Frank Easterbrook did not say how many documents would have to be released or what they involve exactly. He said nobody had opposed the release of at least one batch of records. However, two unnamed clients later asked Easterbrook to change his mind and keep the documents sealed. Prosecutors had asked that various records in the John Doe be released.

The probe centers around alleged illegal coordination of fundraising and other activities between outside groups and Republican candidates in the 2011 and 2012 recall contests, including that of Gov. Scott Walker.

The investigation is on hold after Federal Judge Rudolph Randa said one of the targets of the probe had its free-speech rights violated. A number of details have already been released in various court filings about what's supposed to be a secret evidence-gathering investigation to determine if charges are warranted.

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Construction site bones are human, say police

Bones were dug up late Monday at a construction site in Milwaukee are most likely human, say police.

Officers were called to the Cream City Gardens on the west edge of the downtown area about 5 p.m. yesterday.  Police say they'll work with the Milwaukee County medical examiner and the State Crime Lab to identify the bones and a possible cause of death.

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