Judge Dorow allows suspect 2 days to go to jail; instead man attacks family, police say

The presiding judge on the case, Jennifer Dorow, is running for Wisconsin Supreme Court. Dorow also presided over the trial of Darrell Brooks, convicted for the Waukesha parade attack.
Wisconsin Supreme Court
Posted at 11:08 AM, Dec 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-08 13:24:36-05

WAUKESHA, Wis. — An Oak Creek man accused of stabbing his in-laws in Illinois had been sentenced to jail the day before in Wisconsin. However, a Waukesha Judge running for State Supreme Court allowed him two days to report, the I-Team discovered.

Michael Liu, 36, was supposed to report to jail by Dec. 2 to serve four months for a domestic violence incident over the summer. Judge Jennifer Dorow sentenced Liu on Nov. 30 and allowed Liu two days to report.

According to a Will County Sheriff's Department Facebook post, during those two days, Liu traveled from Oak Creek to Crete, Ill. to exact revenge on his soon-to-be ex-wife’s parents. According to the Will County Sheriff’s Department, on Dec. 1 Liu fired shots into the home of his ex-wife’s parents and broke into the home, stabbing the 66-year-old woman. The 68-year-old man intervened and was stabbed as well. The man defended his wife, stabbing Liu an estimated 17 times, according to law enforcement. All three are expected to survive.

Wisconsin court records show two days earlier, Liu was in a Waukesha County Courtroom, facing eight counts of domestic violence-related charges after an incident with his family over the summer. According to the criminal complaint, one of Liu’s children was crying and he grew frustrated. The complaint says he threw a magnetic block across the room. Then, he's accused of charging at his wife and yelling at her. The complaint says Liu punched his wife in the shoulder and she took the children into a room.

The complaint continues, saying Liu forced the door open, took a hammer and smashed one of the children’s iPads in the hallway.

According to the wife, there is a history of domestic violence. The complaint says it had been going on for at least the last eight months, dating back to December of 2021.

After the incident, a 72-hour no-contact order was in place so Liu was not legally allowed to contact or be around his wife. The next day, a family friend contacted police after Liu made concerning statements to them. According to this person, the complaint states, Liu said, “something similar to ‘I’m going to kill one of the kids and me.'” When police confronted Liu about this statement, he said he was joking and did not mean the statement, according to the complaint.

The complaint goes on to say when police contacted Liu’s wife, she said Liu tried to call her multiple times, which would be in violation of the 72-hour no-contact order. A neighbor Liu was staying with called his wife and asked where the family’s handgun was located, the children’s birth certificates and social security numbers.

Liu was charged with eight different counts for this incident, including stalking, battery, disorderly conduct, criminal damage to property and contact after domestic abuse arrest.

On Nov. 30, Liu had a plea/sentencing hearing where he pleaded guilty to three counts; battery, criminal damage to property and contact after a domestic abuse arrest. Judge Jennifer Dorow, who is running for State Supreme Court, sentenced him to four months in jail, with work release and probation. According to court records, Dorow allowed Liu two days to report to jail. It was the next day the Will County Sheriff's Department said Liu traveled to Crete, Ill. where his in-laws were injured.

Judge Dorow’s campaign team provided the following statement regarding her decision to allow Liu two days to report:

“First off, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims for a speedy and full recovery. In this case, I sentenced Mr. Liu to jail despite it being his first offense. It's unfortunate he did not report to jail as ordered and instead went to Illinois."

Waukesha County District Attorney, Sue Opper, says Dorow's sentence was twice as much as the state recommended in this case. Opper says the state requested 60 days in jail, rather than the 120 days Dorow sentenced. As for the two days to report, Opper says the state and the victim did not object to it.

"It's always in the court's discretion and we have the ability to object," Opper said. "But with the record we had at the time of sentencing, [Liu] was doing quite well on bail and in counseling. So there wasn't anything for us to think he'd abscond or create a risk."

"I don't think it reflects negatively on her character," Janine Geske, retired State Supreme Court Justice and current professor at Marquette University's Law School said. "These are decisions tough judges have to make."

Geske served as a judge for the Milwaukee Circuit Court for 12 years. She says, these kinds of decisions, like deciding if a guilty defendant should be given time before reporting for jail, are weighed heavily by judges daily.

"If it's a felony, even if they've been out on bail, you're sentencing them to prison," Geske said. "Ordinarily, most judges will take them into custody immediately because the shock of suddenly getting prison time creates a bigger risk that they may abscond and take off and not show up. Misdemeanors are a little harder, which is what domestic violence is. It's a balancing between, is there something that might happen, that they may not appear? Or worse yet, go out and commit some crimes?"

Liu pleaded guilty to three charges that were all misdemeanors but he was charged with one felony for stalking. That charge, while not held against him, would be considered during sentencing for the other charges he was being held accountable for, according to Geske.

But in this case, Geske says there should have been red flags.

"There were multiple counts here, domestic violence," Geske said. "He is potentially a dangerous person and there has been a restraining order against him. On the other hand, they are misdemeanors and [Dorow] ultimately gave some probation to him. She took a chance on him and unfortunately, he went and allegedly hurt other people."

It's the latest judgment call that went awry. The Milwaukee County District Attorney admitted fault in giving Daryl Brooks a low bail, the man convicted in killing six during last year's Waukesha Christmas Parade. Last August, Judge David Borowski released Ernest Blakney after he was convicted of sexual assault of a child. Prosecutors asked for Blakney to be placed in jail while awaiting sentencing but the judge denied it. Police say Blakney then went on to kill his ex-girlfriend and reportedly set her home on fire. Two weeks later, he was killed by MPD after a high speed chase and shootout. It's something Judge Borowski told WTMJ Radio that he has enormous regret about and has lost sleep over.

"He had been out on bail," Geske said of Liu. "Nothing bad had happened and [Dorow] must have thought, two more days wasn't going to harm anything. Unfortunately, that judgment turned out to be wrong. You always hope you're not creating a situation where offenders are going to go out and commit new crimes but there is always that risk."

Carmen Pitre, President & CEO of the Sojourner Family Peace Center, wouldn’t comment directly about this case, but acknowledged flaws in the criminal justice system that put survivors of domestic abuse in harm’s way.

“The way I think about it is, the system that was designed was never foolproof or perfect,” Pitre said. “People who are intent on hurting others look for those loopholes. So if the court gives me a certain amount of time to show up, I might not show up, or get out on bail and have intentions to hurt someone. There are all kinds of ways I can take advantage.”

Pitre says restraining orders are an example of something that can aggravate a domestic abuser. She encourages people to file for restraining orders in certain circumstances because it can create a paper trail to later charge a domestic abuser if something is to happen. However, it’s not something that can always protect a vulnerable person.

“I think the system doesn’t guarantee safety,” Pitre said. “That’s the unfortunate thing. Survivors need to be prepared, and family members, to understand safety planning and the changing nature of that on a day-to-day basis.”

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