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Friends of murdered girl get boost in Leah's Law movement

On Jan. 7, 2006, Leah Gustafson, 29, was brutally murdered after allegedly letting Jason Borelli, 32, into her Superior apartment.

Had she known the past history of this neighbor from across the street she probably would not have opened the door, friends say.

Borelli, who is accused of murdering Gustafson, has a long-record of violent offenses including the brutal beating of a Rice Lake woman and an assault on his mother. His trial in the Gustafson murder is scheduled to begin Oct. 30 in Douglas County.

Since her death, Gustafson's friends, neighbors and co-workers have since been trying to get a law passed in both Wisconsin and Minnesota called "Leah's Law."

"We've been in the process of contacting and talking to anyone and anybody that will listen to us," said Melinda Cooper, a spokesperson for the Leah's Law group and longtime friend of Gustafson.

The law would be similar to those for repeat sex offenders. It would require that the community be notified anytime a repeat violent offender moves into a community.

It would also create an online Web site were people could search for violent offenders in their community - similar to the state's sex offender Web site.

Now two Republican lawmakers have taken up their cause and are in the initial stages of drafting "Leah's Law" in Wisconsin.

Rep. Scott Suder, Abbottsford, and Rep. Sue Jeskewitz, Menomonee Falls, are both members of the Assembly's criminal justice committee and homeland security - a committee Suder chairs.

"We are very happy, this is just what we wanted," Cooper said.

Suder contacted the group after seeing an article in Superior's newspaper, the Daily Telegram.

"Melinda and her group have a good idea," Suder said. "We have the time to research it and put together a bill that is right for Wisconsin."

He said he plans on having the bill ready to be introduced when the Legislature convenes in January.

Initially Suder said he was concerned about the cost of the community notification aspect of the proposal, but since May he has been on a national criminal justice task force and has had a chance to see what other states are doing.

"I am more convinced now that this can be done in a cost-effective manner, after looking at what other states are doing," said Suder.

Both Suder and Jeskewitz say they are considering including in the registry criminals who have committed crimes such as intentional homicide with a deadly weapon, assault and battery with a deadly weapon, assault with intent to kill and other crimes such as first-degree manslaughter.

Cooper says the group's also hopes to have a federal law.

"We have a right to know who is in our neighborhoods and to feel protected," Cooper said.

More information about Leah's Law is available on the group's Web site:

Brady Bautch is the Internet Publisher for the RiverTown Newspaper Group. He can be contacted at Jana Hollingsworth of the Daily Telegram contributed to this story.