In October of 1999, William Stoltz took out a $400,000 life-insurance policy on his wife, and another $400,000 policy was taken out on himself.
On New Year's Eve day of 1999, Dawn Stoltz arrived home from work at 3:30 in the afternoon. A short while later, William Stoltz asked his wife to help him move some stuff into the garage. She noticed that he smelled like gasoline and was wearing multi-layered clothing "that looked like it was bunched up" and was also wearing gloves.
Stoltz, who is six-foot-three and weighs 240 pounds, then instructed his wife to pick up some boards by the firewood pile in the garage. She glanced at a mound of debris next to the wood and then saw something fly over her shoulder. That "something" was a flame, and it ignited the debris.
Stoltz then allegedly grabbed his wife from behind, and attempted to pick her up and place her into the fire. She struggled, kicking her husband to get free. He then allegedly grabbed her again, and once more tried to put her into the flames.
Dawn Stoltz finally broke away and ran into the yard. Neighbors had apparently heard her cries for help and called the police. Sheriff's deputies arrived just as William Stoltz attempted to flee the scene in his pickup truck with his infant daughter. The officers repeatedly ordered Stoltz to exit his vehicle, but he refused.
Mrs. Stoltz was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed as suffering from "acute smoke inhalation." She also sustained second-degree burns on her right hand and scattered first-degree burns to her arms and legs. Her left wrist and left arm were bruised, as was her upper back.
William Stoltz was charged with attempted first-degree murder, but then he hired a defense lawyer who has contributed to the campaign fund of DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett. Birkett's office cut a plea bargain with Stoltz and his lawyer that included only time served in the county jail and probation.
Dawn Stoltz now claims she was "buffaloed" by Birkett's office into approving the deal, so she reneged. Birkett's prosecutors then asked a judge for a seven-year sentence. The judge, however, said Birkett's office had gone back on its word, and he set William Stoltz free after just 34 days in jail, adding a provision that he pay $20,000 in restitution to his wife, who was divorcing him.
Last week, Illinois NOW held a press conference to denounce the plea bargain and Birkett, who is running for Illinois attorney general. William Stoltz's lawyer stormed the NOW event and claimed that Dawn Stoltz received only minor burns to her leg. True, but the evidence shows she also received second-degree burns to her hand; bruises on her wrist, arm, and back; and acute smoke inhalation. He claimed she reneged on the plea bargain because she realized she wouldn't receive any monetary compensation. But can you blame her? After all, Birkett's office was willing to allow her husband - a man originally charged with attempted first-degree murder - to serve barely a month behind bars without any other real penalty.
Birkett's office claims the issue is specious because his office asked the judge to put Mr. Stoltz in prison for seven years. He certainly did that, but only after first cutting a deal (with someone who had hired a Birkett campaign contributor) that let the defendant out of jail in a month without compensating his victim, who had a baby daughter to support.
Was there actual wrongdoing by Birkett here? We don't know all the facts, and we weren't there, making it highly imprudent to automatically second-guess his behavior. Besides, it's difficult to comprehend that Birkett would take a dive for a few bucks.
However, for Birkett to believably claim that his integrity is above reproach, as he did last week, his responses to any attacks should be a lot more truthful than the Clintonian explanations his campaign offered up in this case. Shading the facts might work for a while, but if reporters ever catch on that he is being less than forthright, he's toast.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).