A retired Wisconsin judge was gunned down and killed in his home on Friday, and his suspected killer – a former defendant in his courtroom – shot himself in the basement, a government official familiar with the investigation said Saturday.
The official confirmed John Roemer, 68, who sat on the Juneau county circuit court bench for 14 years beginning in 2004, was found shot dead in his home in the community of New Lisbon about 6.30am Friday. His alleged killer, identified Saturday as 56-year-old Douglas Uhde, was then discovered in the basement with a self-inflicted bullet wound, and was brought to a hospital.
Uhde remained alive but in critical condition as of Saturday, authorities added.
The official stopped short of confirming or denying media reports that Uhde was a self-styled militia member who had zip-tied Roemer to a chair and maintained a so-called hitlist naming US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and Wisconsin governor Tony Evers. But he did say that those believed to be future intended targets had been notified, and authorities did not suspect any one of them was facing an active threat.
“This was isolated,” said the official, who agreed to speak anonymously to be able to discuss details of the ongoing investigation into Roemer’s killing freely.
Politically, Roemer was elected in nonpartisan races. McConnell is a Republican while Whitmer and Evers are Democrats.
Uhde in 2005 was convicted of burglary while armed and other weapons offences, including possession of a short-barreled shotgun or rifle, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The State Journal reported Roemer was the judge in that case, and he sentenced Uhde to six years in prison and nine years of extended supervision. Uhde reportedly had subsequent convictions for criminal escape, fleeing an officer driving a stolen vehicle and obstructing police, the State Journal added.
On Friday, Wisconsin’s attorney general, Josh Kaul, had refused to publicly identify Roemer or Uhde, saying only that the morning’s shooting in New Lisbon appeared to be “targeted” and that the gunman was after people who were “part of the judicial system” .
“The information that’s been gathered indicated that it was a targeted act and that the targeting was based on some sort of court case or court cases,” Kaul said.
Juneau county sheriff’s deputies discovered Roemer’s body when they received a call to investigate two gunshots fired inside his home. The caller had fled Roemer’s home at the time of the killing and dialed for help at another nearby house.
Officials said deputies tried to negotiate with Uhde at the home and convince him to surrender, but they were unable. A specialized tactical team then entered the home after nearly four hours, spotting Roemer’s body and Uhde critically wounded by his own hand in the basement.
Roemer was elected to the local circuit court bench in 2004. He was re-elected to two additional six-year terms in 2010 and 2016 – both times were unopposed.
However, he never completed his third term, resigning in August 2017 as his wife grappled with declining health. She died in 2018, leaving him and their three sons behind.
Roemer, in his resignation letter, called serving the Juneau county court “a precious opportunity”.
“It is a responsibility that, at times, I can barely fathom,” said the letter, according to the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune.
Before becoming judge, he served as a prosecutor and public defender, and he retired from the US army reserves as a lieutenant colonel.
The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune reported that Roemer presided over a number of high-profile cases, among them one from 2008 that involved the leader of a religious sect who ordered a follower to hide a 90-year-old woman’s corpse in a toilet in her home for two months while he pocketed social security payments issued to the deceased.
A former Juneau county district attorney, Scott Southworth, said Roemer “cared deeply about doing the right thing on the bench”.
“He was kind. He was passionate. He was empathetic,” Southworth told the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune. “It is imperative that public officials in our justice system can do their job without fear of being harmed or threatened.”