Former bishop makes plea deal; Victim’s family hopes for stiff sentence

Burnside pleads guilty to 2 of 7 charges as part of deal
Former bishop makes plea deal; Victim’s family hopes for stiff sentence
Burnside in court May 13, 2014

The former Lutheran bishop charged in a deadly hit-and-run drunken driving crash pleaded guilty to two charges in court Tuesday, including a felony. The outcome is one the victim’s family still does not agree with.

Bruce Burnside, 60, was charged with four felonies, including homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle in connection with the death of Maureen Mengelt. Last week prosecutors said a deal would have Burnside plead guilty to two of the seven charges against him.

On Tuesday morning in Dane County court Burnside pleaded guilty to felony second-degree reckless homicide and first-offense operating while intoxicated. Assistant District Attorney Emily Thompson defended the plea deal in court.

“Second-degree reckless homicide, which the defendant will plead to today, is a class D felony, which is the same classification as OWI homicide,” Thompson said. “I think that a plea to this charge is reasonable because it provides closure and finality to the case.”

Thompson told the court that the deal was reached because a field sobriety test was thrown out by the judge, and a separate appeals court case regarding blood tests in fatal traffic crashes could throw out more evidence. She said it was likely appeals on the case could lead to court proceedings being dragged out for years, which the victim’s family didn’t want.

But Maureen Mengelt’s husband, Kevin Mengelt, told News 3 he had hoped the case would go to trial after a year of proceedings, or that the plea deal would have been to a charge of homicide by hit-and-run.

“I thought the evidence was overwhelming, and going to court would allow all his misdeeds to be seen in public, which was something I wanted,” Kevin Mengelt said.

Maureen Mengelt, 52, of Sun Prairie, was out for an afternoon jog when she was hit and killed last April at at off-ramp near Highway 151 and Windsor Street in Sun Prairie.

Burnside’s attorney said the plea deal shows he is responsible and remorseful.

“He accepts responsibility as he has wanted to for many months, and in doing so provides closure and certainty to everyone involved,” defense attorney John Hyland said.

The other felonies originally facing Burnside were “read in” so the judge can consider them at sentencing, which is Kevin Mengelt’s only solace.

“If these facts are considered and he is put in prison accordingly I think that would help my family and help the community put trust again in our legal system,” Kevin Mengelt said. “Dropping these charges I thought was a sign of weakness.”

Burnside was taken to jail directly from court Tuesday until sentencing, which has yet to be scheduled.

Thompson said she plans to ask for eight years in prison on the homicide charge.