A Vilas County judge last week rejected a motion for sentence reduction filed by attorneys representing Doug Plude.
Plude, 52, is serving a 25-year prison sentence in connection with the death of his wife, Genell, in 1999.
In the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 1999, 28-year-old Genell Johnson Plude was found unresponsive on the floor of the bathroom in her Land O'Lakes home.
According to court records and River News archives, unusual bruises were found on Genell's body, and a significant amount of drugs were found in her system, after she was pronounced dead at the local hospital.
Three years later, in December 2002, the state persuaded a Shawano County jury that her husband poisoned her with migraine medicine, held her head under the water in the toilet bowl until she drowned, and arranged the scene to look like a suicide.
The state argued Plude killed his wife, who had begun to question her sexual orientation, because she was going to leave him.
According to trial testimony, Genell's parents were set to drive to Wisconsin from Minnesota on Oct. 23, 1999, to pick up their daughter so she could start a new life in another state.
A nurse also testified to overhearing Plude say "I told you not to leave me" while standing over his wife's body after she was pronounced dead.
The defense argued Genell was deeply depressed and her plan to leave her marriage was nothing more than a fantasy.
The jury found Plude guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of release after 20 years. As it turned out, he served a little more than five years in prison before the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned his conviction in June 2008 because an expert witness, who provided testimony about the physics of drowning in a toilet bowl, had exaggerated his credentials.
A second trial was set for October 2010 but Plude took a plea deal instead.
In November of 2010, after he entered a guilty plea to one count of first degree reckless homicide, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison with parole eligibility in just under a year.
He also received credit for time served before his conviction was overturned.
During the 2010 sentencing hearing, Plude continued to insist that he did not kill his wife and explained that extenuating circumstances (his mother's cancer) caused him to take the deal.
"It didn't take long for me to accept this plea bargain so I can be home for her," he said, referring to his mother. "It's not about me and my innocence anymore. I would have loved to prove it, believe me. But she means more to me, having her alive and keeping her in remission with the once a month treatment."
"I am guilty of being a bad husband, I'm not guilty of taking my wife's life and I'll swear it until the day I die," he added. "I did contribute to the situation, not being the best husband in the world. I should have paid more attention to Genell and my marriage."
The state and the defense jointly recommended a sentence of 20 years probation (and no additional jail or prison time) but Judge Neal A. "Chip" Nielsen found such a lenient sentence would "unduly depreciate" the severity of the offense and ordered Plude back to prison.
That decision came after four hours of wrenching testimony from Genell's friends and relatives.
One by one, her aunt, uncle, cousin, siblings, parents and others shared their memories and their grief. They recalled fishing trips, camping, going out for pizza, smiles, hugs, poems, the last weekend of Genell's life, the plans they had for the future and all of the milestones of life, both large and small, she did not get to experience.
"She was and still is very special to us all," her aunt and godmother Kathy Miller told the judge during the hearing. "As you can see 11 years later we are all here for her."
Each family member asked Nielsen to impose a long prison sentence.
"Judge Nielsen, please consider the absolute terror that Genny suffered at Doug's hand during the homicide," asked her uncle Lyle Miller. "We've all come to the end today of the long road to justice. Please allow me and my family the satisfaction and comfort of a fair punishment for recklessly taking the life of a wonderful person, Genell Kathleen Johnson."
In July of 2019, Plude reached out to Nielsen to request his sentence be modified from 25 years to 15 years. He also asked to be placed on probation for five years. That request was later formalized as a motion and a hearing was scheduled for March 19.
According to online court records, Nielsen denied the motion on the grounds Plude did not meet his burden of proof. Court records also note that Nielsen stated the court cannot find a change in parole commission policy to grant the motion.
(The River News was unable to attend the hearing in person, however a transcript has been ordered. After the transcript is received, we intend to publish a story outlining the judge's rationale for denying the motion).
According to his July 2019 letter to Nielsen, Plude noted that he has been before the parole board on four occasions, including as recently as April 2019, but has been denied parole each time because he won't admit guilt.
"All parole has been doing is playing games with me because I won't admit," he wrote, adding that he has been "doing everything right" in prison (he is currently being held at New Lisbon Correctional Institution) and has completed all required programs.
"By doing this (granting the sentence modification) I would be home this year and still have 4 years or 5 years on paper to show you I will keep doing good," he added.
Included with the letter was a copy of a parole commission report issued following Plude's most recent denial last April.
According to the report, the parole commission denied Plude's most recent request for release because, in its estimation, he has not "served sufficient time for punishment."
"Nonetheless, you stand convicted of being responsible for the death of your wife, and have still served just over 14 years of total time to date. Considering all of the aforementioned circumstances, most notably the senseless loss of life, serving additional time for punishment is warranted," the report states.
Heather Schaefer may be reached at heather@ rivernewsonline.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce