Corrections officials commend ‘Leah’s Law’ effort at CapitolMADISON — When a neighbor knocked on the door in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2006, what Leah Gustafson didn’t know killed her.
By: Shelley Nelson, The Daily Telegram
MADISON — When a neighbor knocked on the door in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 2006, what Leah Gustafson didn’t know killed her.
The 29-year-old Superior woman had no way of knowing that the neighbor on the other side, Jason Richard Borelli, had a long history of violent offenses, many of them against women. Unlike the courts that prosecuted him in five northern Wisconsin counties, Gustafson had no way of knowing Borelli was a habitual offender with a history of violence against women. It’s a record that included an attack against a Rice Lake woman, an assault on his mother and threats against the mother of his children.
Leah’s friends and family — with the support of the Superior Days delegation — were back in Madison today hoping to convince lawmakers the time has come to give people tools that could have helped Gustafson protect herself from the fatal attack.
This morning, they made their first pitch in favor of Assembly Bill 566 — “Leah’s Law” — to the Department of Corrections. The bill was written and introduced by Reps. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford, Frank Boyle, D-Summit, and Suzanne Jeskewitz, R-Menomonee Falls. The bill is currently before the Assembly Committee on Criminal Justice.
If passed, it would create a violent offender registry similar to the state’s sex offender list.
“I am always so impressed when people can turn something bad into an effort to do a good thing,” said DOC Deputy Secretary Amy Smith. “I commend all of you for that.”
However, she did say implementing the new law would take some resources and staffing.
“If they want to get rid of me, they’ll pass it,” said Melinda Cooper, a friend of Leah’s. “If they like my company, ‘go ahead, drag your feet,’ but you won’t get rid of me until it’s passed.”
“Leah was always trying to help people,” her mother,” Sharon Gustafson, said during a meeting with the corrections department today. “It’s a reflection of her that we are trying to do this. It enables people to be alert and careful. Leah had no idea.”
The goal, friends and family members say, is to spare others from becoming the victims of violent offenders.
“I was home Jan. 7, 2006, when I got a knock on the door — a persistent knock on the door,” said Leah’s father, Richard Gustafson. “There was a police officer there with a chaplain. I knew it wasn’t very good.”
A hearing on the bill has been scheduled for Wednesday.
Contact Shelley Nelson at (715) 395-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org.