“I am the daughter of that piece of scum, sitting in the chair. I don’t understand how you can look at someone who murdered someone, stabbed them over 43 times and say that they should be allowed to walk outside of bars” – Nikkole Nelson, the daughter of victim Johanna Rose Balsewicz.
An administrative law judge, Brian Hayes, has ruled that wife killer Douglas Balsewicz should not be released early on parole because the state Department of Corrections did not give the victim’s daughter Nikkole a chance to voice her objections to the decision to free him, the victim’s family told Wisconsin Right Now.
The judge’s ruling on September 30, 2022, came after an emotional August hearing into Balsewicz’s appeal of last spring’s Parole Commission decision to revoke his parole just days before he was to walk out of prison.
Gov. Tony Evers’ appointee John Tate had initially granted Balsewicz discretionary parole, which the victim’s family found out about “through the grapevine.” He then rescinded the decision after intense criticism erupted from the victim’s family. Balsewicz had a right to appeal the parole reversal to Hayes.
Evers belatedly pressured Tate to revoke the release, a fact emphasized at the appeal hearing by Balsewicz’s lawyer, Tony Cotton, who painted the change as a political move because of the looming election.
Hayes’ decision is a recommendation that now goes back to Evers’ new appointee to the Parole Commission, Chris Blythe, who will decide whether Balsewicz should be freed or the reversal should stand.
Blythe banned public comment at his first hearing as chair this week, and he said victims’ families weren’t notified because they didn’t sign up for the notification system. However, at the appeal hearing, the state admitted that there were gaps in their victim notification process that led to Nikkole not being informed about the parole hearing.
Wisconsin Right Now has been writing a series of stories about brutal killers released by Tate in discretionary paroles during the first three years of Evers’ tenure. Evers reappointed Tate in 2021 after many of the killers’ releases. Multiple families told us they were not notified by the state Department of Corrections despite state law saying a reasonable attempt must be made to reach victims before paroles. Some families believed they were registered until they suddenly stopped getting notice.
State law says a parole can be rescinded if there is a change of circumstance before an inmate is released, so it may be too late for those families. Evers has not commented on the other cases, which are just as severe.
At the appeal hearing, a transcript of which we obtained, the victim’s daughter, Nikkole, finally was given her voice by the system at long last. And what she told Judge Brian Hayes about the parole possibility of Balsewicz was searing. She said, in part:
“I am the daughter of that piece of scum, sitting in the chair. I don’t understand how you can look at someone who murdered someone, stabbed them over 43 times and say that they should be allowed to walk outside of bars. What he did …messed up a whole lot of people’s lives. Including mine and my brother’s . I mean, we didn’t have anyone growing up. We didn’t have a mom. He took that away from us. And we didn’t have a father.
He, because of what Doug did, it messed me up physically, emotionally, and mentally, And, I went through a lot of counseling. I couldn’t talk until I was six. I had nightmares until like 14 years old of what happened that night over and over and over. And for some reason people think he deserves to get out on parole.
…I just think it’s extremely unfair. My mom didn’t get a second chance so why should he? I’d be very frightened if he got out of prison. And, considering the fact that no one notified me or told me how to be notified or his release or his paroles, it was quite scary… so congratulations that he mopped the floor, and he passed the test. But how does that judge how he will survive outside and not do it again to some one else? I think he deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his life.”
Nikkole was a toddler when her mother was killed; she was lying in bed next to her and was found the next day, with her small brother, covered in blood, walking down the street.
At the hearing on Balsewicz’s appeal, Elizabeth Lucas, director of the state Department of Corrections’ Office of Victim Services and Programs, testified that Nikkole did not receive notice because she was not enrolled in the state’s notification system. Adult victims are told of that system during the original court case by the DA’s office or local victim/witness offices. But Nikkole was a juvenile then so she wasn’t informed.
“We did not have any mechanism to track minor victims once they reach age,” Lucas testified of the state’s notification failures in the case.
Victim notification is handled by the Department of Corrections, which falls under Evers’ authority and is run by a cabinet appointee.
Either way, though, Balsewicz will come up for parole again in January.
“I wanted to let you know that the Division of Hearings and Appeals has agreed with the decision of the Wisconsin Parole Commission to rescind the Parole Grant,” Diana Lewis, Program Manager for the Office of Victim Services & Programs, Department of Corrections, wrote the family of Johanna Rose about Hayes’ decision.
“This means that Administrator Hayes is recommending that the decision to rescind the grant should stand. The new Parole Chair, Christopher Blythe, will now decide whether or not sustain the recommendation and previous decision. If the Chair sustains this decision, the next Parole Interview is scheduled to be sometime in January of 2023.”
Johanna’s sisters Kim Binder Cornils and Karen Kannenberg told Wisconsin Right Now they were informed that the judge ground his decision in the fact the state did not give notification to all members of the victims’ family (Nikkole was the major focus) so their voices could be heard at Balsewicz’s parole hearing. The family does not have the full decision yet.
Tate testified at the appeal hearing. We will be writing a separate story on that testimony.
In a statement to Wisconsin Right Now, Johanna’s family said they want Blythe to “hear from us” and follow the recommendation of sentencing Judge Diane Sykes that Balsewicz should not be granted early release.
“As victims, you are always being re-victimized,” they said. “The family has had to go through parole hearings after parole hearings to relive the death of our sister. We feel we are being re-victimized every few months.”
But they stressed: “The fight is so strong. We are not going to give up until the right thing is done – him staying in prison. You can not rehabilitate jealousy and control.”
The family said they want to help the families of other murder victims whose cases Wisconsin Right Now has been profiling for weeks.
“It’s not just our family,” Johanna’s siblings said. “It’s heart-wrenching and sad and makes you cry to see what people had to go through. We want to keep fighting with these other families. We were the lucky ones. We found out before (he walked out of prison). That’s not the case with many of these families. We have to continue to fight to change the system. None of it is right.”
Evers initially did not respond to the victim’s pleas, nor did Tate. However, after the victim’s family members went to the state Capitol to literally knock on the governor’s office door, he switched tactics and agreed to meet with them last spring.
As media attention ignited around the killer’s looming release, Evers suddenly did an about-face and urged Tate to rescind the release because of problems with victim notification, especially Nikkole. Tate did so. As pressure built on Republican legislators to reject Tate’s nomination (they had left it hang for years, making him an acting chair), Evers suddenly asked Tate to quit, which Tate did.
Wisconsin Right Now, in the wake of that case, filed an open records request seeking the names of other murderers and rapists granted discretionary parole by Evers. The list of hundreds of discretionary paroles during the first three years’ of Evers’ tenure includes some of the most brutal killers in state history.