Daughter testifies that alleged homicide victim looked forward to being sober grandmother

February 21, 2019

Columbia County Circuit Court Judge W. Andrew Voigt leaned over the bench Wednesday to ask a key witness in a jury trial to simply answer the defense attorney’s question on the third morning of a long-awaited trial.

Voigt said he understood Jamie Herman’s frustration, and noted her “absolutely understandable” desire to offer more than a simple yes or no to questions asked by attorneys for defendant Patrick A. Kraemer, whom Herman has separately sued for allegedly causing the wrongful death of her mother, Traci Rataczak, in April 2013.

“This is not a debate. It is not an opportunity to argue with them,” Voigt told her. “Just answer the question.”

Herman, sitting still and upright, looked Voigt in the eye and nodded.

Kraemer is charged with first-degree intentional homicide for Rataczak’s death. Prosecutors say Rataczak was found hanging by the neck in Kraemer’s basement, and medical examiners determined her death was caused by suffocation.

Defense attorney Andrew Martinez pointed to what he says is evidence of suicide risks in Rataczak’s lifetime, claiming that she, not Kraemer, caused her own death.

“The argument is that this is a consistent fact about her life,” Martinez said.

Herman testified that her mother asked her to hold off on having children until after Rataczak finished serving a possible jail sentence for driving while intoxicated.

She said her mother wanted to be a sober grandmother, and she wanted to move her clothes and furniture out of Kraemer’s house and be with her children and other family members. Rataczak did not want to go back to living with Kraemer after going to jail, Herman said.

Herman said she requested her mother’s counseling records in 2018, and records indicated Rataczak had not seen a mental health counselor at Pauquette Center since 2011, two years before her death.

“That person taught her how to live life after sobriety,” Herman said, adding that her mother thought a sober jail sentence would help with that life goal.

While answering a question from prosecutor Robert Kaiser, Herman mentioned a 1994 divorce between Rataczak and her biological father, and Herman said her father later was permanently disabled in a 1995 automobile accident.

Martinez objected, saying that asking questions about decades-old incidents was not in line with the court’s ruling to now allow statements about whether past incidents were risk factors or suicide attempts.

Kaiser argued that he doesn’t care how many times the defense tries to point to various instances and claim Rataczak was sad or at risk of killing herself.

“Because she didn’t,” Kaiser said, adding that jurors would have to decide what information is relevant and rely on the facts of the case alone. Voigt said while the court would need to revisit that aspect of Herman’s testimony later on in the trial, he moved other witnesses along to the stand.

Theresa Bray, a respiratory therapist at University of Wisconsin Hospital, testified that she prescribed a 48-hour Holter monitor to Rataczak.

Bray said the device appeared in normal condition when a police officer returned it to her.

Bray said adhesive leads on Holter monitors generally are placed around a patient’s ribs and collarbone, and if the device is removed early, all data could be lost.

Prosecutors say the monitor’s recordings pinpoint the exact time Rataczak died.

Dr. Craig January, a longtime cardiologist at UW-Madison, testified that a Holter monitor recorded abnormal heartbeats for Rataczak in the early morning of April 6, 2013.

After a 12-second pause, Rataczak’s heartbeats fluctuated in and out of chaotic rhythms and slowly stopped at 2:48 a.m. The monitor indicated Rataczak was not moving much or at all.

“It appeared abruptly. This is certainly a worrisome finding,” January said.