DA responds to concerns over Burnside’s plea deal

Suspect accused of killing woman while driving drunk last year
DA responds to concerns over Burnside’s plea deal
Ismael Ozanne, Dane County District Attorney

The Dane County District Attorney is addressing concerns over a plea deal for an alleged drunken driver after a victim’s family called the deal a failure.

DA Ismael Ozanne would not answer questions about the specifics of the plea deal or why it was reached, saying it was unethical to do so until the case was completed. He did speak with News 3 about how his office negotiates plea deals and deals with victim’s families.

Ozanne’s office is seeking a plea deal for Bruce Burnside, the alleged drunk driver accused of killing Maureen Mengelt while driving drunk in April 2013. Mengelt was out running and Burnside allegedly careened down an offramp, hit a traffic light and then hit Mengelt. Burnside was charged with four felonies including homicide by operating while intoxicated and hit-and-run.

The plea deal announced in court this week would have Burnside plead guilty to one felony — second-degree reckless homicide and first-offense OWI.

“The homicide is the same classification of felony that the original charge in the case was,” Ozanne said. “I believe it is a class D, so a 25-year felony, so that is the same.”

But despite those similar possible penalties, it’s a plea Maureen’s husband Kevin Mengelt vehemently disagrees with.

“To offer a plea deal at this level is just a failure of our criminal justice system,” Mengelt told News 3 on Tuesday.

Ozanne won’t yet say why his office agreed to the deal, citing the ongoing case, but he said, “I understand that some families or victims may want a case to go to trial and sometimes cases have to go to trial, but that’s usually if the two sides cannot come to an agreement, and if the defendant is not willing to accept responsibility and enter a plea.”

Burnside’s attorney told News 3 Tuesday that the plea was the result of a field sobriety test not being allowed at trial as well as a separate case awaiting an appeals court ruling that may also have thrown out a blood test.

Ozanne confirmed there were other cases that could have a direct effect on this one. He also mentioned that the other felonies Burnside is charged with will be read into the record for the judge’s consideration at sentencing.

Burnside will officially make his plea next Tuesday.