RHINELANDER - Mathew Smith entered an Oneida County courtroom Monday morning with his head bowed as he crossed in front of ex-girlfriend Kimber McKenzie.
"His body language is different. The way he's presenting himself is completely different," McKenzie said.
McKenzie, who is the mother of a 1-year-old child with Smith, came to Smith's sentencing to get some closure to a dark part of her life.
"Once the drugs come into the factor, they completely change him," McKenzie said.
Drugs like methamphetamine fueled the events that put Smith in jail. November 16, 2017, he barricaded himself in a home along Highway 8 near Rhinelander. The criminal complaint shows Smith threatened McKenzie and himself with a knife. It took police about six hours to get Smith safely out of the home after the suspect let everyone else go in the first 30 minutes.
"Mr. Smith's conduct, while in custody and on probation has been, in a word, deplorable," Assistant District Attorney Mary Sowinski said.
Smith's troubles didn't start or end that day. He already faced theft and drug charges starting in 2015 in Oneida County, then got into a fight while in jail awaiting prosecution on the standoff case that led to felony charges.
"It's clear that Mr. Smith did not have a nurturing childhood," defense attorney Charles Andrew Ver Hoeve said.
Ver Hoeve pointed to an abusive upbringing that saw his father leave when he was five, apparent mental health issues, and drug abuse as reasons for Smith's struggles with the law. Those factors also played into a plea deal with lighter punishment for Smith in the standoff case.
"I'm remorseful for what I did and I know I wasn't right for the things that I did," Smith told Judge Michael Bloom. "I'm just trying to get past that."
Bloom agreed Smith's behavior improved since he's sat in jail for a year without access to drugs, comparing his progress to firewood that takes time before it's ready to burn.
"Mr. Smith was simply, completely soaked in substance abuse," Bloom said. "Some things take a lot of drying out before they're ready."
Bloom called Smith's past run-ins with the law "an ongoing problem", but also noted the now 22-year-old never really intended to hurt anyone on that November day. Still, Bloom said, police had no way of knowing the magnitude of the threat.
"One of the ironies of this whole situation is the most likely person to end up being harmed or killed as a result of Mr. Smith's actions on the date was Mr. Smith," Bloom said.
The judge decided to lump several jail sentences ranging from three to nine months into time Smith is currently serving for past cases, which means he'll see no additional jail time. Bloom also withheld a possible prison sentence in this case, putting Smith on a combined six years of probation with a command to stay clean and out of trouble.
"Is it possible that less [time] than that could be justified? Possible," Bloom said. "Is it possible that more than that could be justified? That certainly could be possible. I want to retain the right to size things up at the time if it comes to that, which hopefully it will not... If you do not [fulfill your probation], there is a grim period of time in the future awaiting you."
McKenzie thinks bringing their toddler to jail to visit this year helped Smith turn a corner. She hopes this chance will be the last one he needs.
"If he keeps doing good, I believe that he'll be able to be there for his son and watch him grow up and be part of his life," McKenzie said.
Attorneys still need to figure out how much credit Smith will get for the time he's already spent in jail. Sowinski told McKenzie she thinks Smith will get out of jail in spring 2019.
RHINELANDER - A man died near the entrance of Nicolet College in Rhinelander on Thursday afternoon.
Neither the campus nor the public were in danger, according to the Oneida Co. Sheriff's Office. Due to the circumstances of the man's death, Newswatch 12 is not releasing more information, but there appears to be nothing suspicious about the death.
Police got a report at 3:55 p.m. about a man lying face down near the entry drive to Nicolet College. Emergency responders took him to St. Mary's Hospital, but he died.
The Oneida Co. Sheriff's Office, Rhinelander Fire Department, Pelican First Responders, and Oneida Co. Medical Examiner's Office were involved in the response.
ARBOR VITAE - Do you know where your food comes from? Kindergarteners at Arbor Vitae-Woodruff elementary do. They have been growing their own fruits and vegetables all year. On Thursday, their work culminated in a final celebration as part of the first-ever Wisconsin School Garden Day.
Each kindergartner was partnered with a fifth grader to help them with planting and weeding.
Organizer Adriane Morabito said it is important for young people to know where their food comes from.
"It teaches them important skills like empathy, compassionate, and kindness," said Morabito. "It also helps them eat healthy."
The Oneida County Beekeepers Association promotes beekeeping in the Northwoods.
It does its part to save the bees, and wants to encourage to do the same. It works to recruit new beekeepers, as well as teach people the importance of honeybees in our everyday lives.
"Bees are essential for our food supply," said Oneida County Beekeepers Association member, John Bigley. "If we lose the bees, we lose most of the food supply. So, we got to keep them healthy. We have to ensure that they are pollinating not only the flowers, but the fruit trees and vegetable gardens."
The organization is holding a class on June 1st for anyone who is interested in learning how to become a beekeeper.
It's also an advanced class for beekeepers to learn more about bee tips and tricks.
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