MADISON – The family of a woman who was stabbed to death 25 years ago pressed Gov. Tony Evers’ top aide Thursday to try to intervene to stop the parole of their loved one’s killer.
After an impromptu meeting at the state Capitol with Evers chief of staff Maggie Gau, relatives of Johanna Balsewicz left with a promise that they could meet with Evers by Tuesday, they said. That’s the day Douglas Balsewicz is to be released under a decision made by the state Parole Commission.
“Do you know why he’s a danger to society? Because I don’t believe that you can pull — I don’t believe prison can pull jealousy out of a man, which he was a very jealous man,” the victim’s sister, Kim Cornils, told reporters after the meeting.
Balsewicz’s niece Theresa Cook said the Evers administration’s handling of the case could influence this fall’s election. She said she voted for Evers in 2018 but the pending parole “makes me reconsider the kind of person that I voted for, sadly.”
“He is not safe to be left out in the state of Wisconsin,” Cook said of Douglas Balsewicz. “And some of you guys are going to be his neighbor. And one of your sisters or cousins or aunts could be his next girlfriend. He’s getting out young enough to have another partner, more children. And Johanna Rose didn’t even get a chance to raise hers.”
Douglas Balsewicz was convicted in 1997 of killing his wife by stabbing her more than 40 times in her West Allis home. Under a plea deal, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
He was first eligible for parole in 2017 and was denied. A panel of the Parole Commission reviewed his case last month for a fifth time.
John Tate, the commission chairman who was appointed by Evers, approved Balsewicz’s parole on April 27. The Fox Lake Correctional Center is supposed to release him by Tuesday.
The commission determined that “the amount of time served is sufficient so as not to diminish the seriousness of the offense,” the commission said in a recent written statement. Balsewicz had not had any major conduct reports, has met all his programming needs and has been classified as minimum security, according to the commission.
Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback this week said the governor does not have the ability to reverse the commission chairman’s decision.
Family members said they came to the Capitol on Thursday in hopes of getting a meeting with the governor. Evers was traveling so they talked to Gau instead.
She told them she did not know whether there was a way to stop Balsewicz’s release but would have them meet with the governor by Tuesday, the family members said. Cudaback confirmed Evers planned to meet with the family.
Three Republicans running for governor — Rebecca Kleefisch, Tim Michels and Kevin Nicholson — have criticized the commission’s handling of the case. Nicholson and Kleefisch have called for Evers to remove Tate from the Parole Commission.
Evers appointed Tate, a former social worker and Racine alderman, to the commission in 2019. Tate did not immediately respond to an interview request on Thursday.
Balsewicz was convicted before Wisconsin passed its truth-in-sentencing law, which eliminated parole. Of the nearly 21,000 people in Wisconsin’s prison system, about 2,100 are eligible for parole because they were convicted before the truth-in-sentencing law.
In 2020, 187 prisoners were paroled, according to the Parole Commission.
The Associated Press and Bruce Vielmetti of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.