By Shereen Siewert
Judges this month rejected an appeal by a Lincoln County man convicted in April 2014 of strangling and stabbing his wife to death before dumping her body in a swamp.
Mark Bucki, now 55, was convicted by a jury following an 8-day trial on charges of first-degree intentional homicide, concealing a corpse and strangulation/suffocation in connection with the April 2013 death of 48-year-old Anita Bucki.
The two had been married for more than 26 years but were estranged at the time of Anita Bucki’s death, according to court testimony.
James Rebholz, a defense attorney from Wauwatosa who is defending Mark Bucki, argued that his client’s trial attorneys erred in several ways. Rebholz said evidence that bloodhounds found Mark Bucki’s scent in the ditch next to the spot where Anita Bucki’s body was found, 18 miles from the couple’s home, was particularly problematic. Rebholz argued that the court should have allowed evidence that showed that the shoes used by the bloodhound’s handler to track the scent could also have been worn by the victim herself.
The lack of corroboration for the cadaver dogs, Rebholz argued, led the jury to improperly speculate that what could have been entirely innocent scents were evidence of Mark Bucki’s guilt.
But Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul successfully argued that Circuit Judge Jay Tlusty acted properly and that Mark Bucki’s trial attorneys addressed the issue on cross-examination. Further, Kaul argued, the jury would have convicted Mark Bucki even if they had dismissed the dog evidence entirely.
During his trial, Bucki was represented by attorneys James Lex and Jessica Schuster.
Prosecutors during the trial relied heavily on circumstantial evidence including emails and text messages that documented the couple’s marital struggles and Mark Bucki’s desire to start a new life with a girlfriend.
“(Mark Bucki) believes he was unfairly convicted, and the reasons for that are complicated,” Rebholz said, in a July 2017 phone interview with Wausau Pilot and Review.
Bucki is serving a mandatory life sentence and won’t be eligible for extended release until he serves 35 years, when he is in his mid-80s.
At trial, special prosecutor Richard Dufour told jurors Bucki killed his wife over an intense desire to end the marriage. Anita Bucki moved out of the couple’s home in early April 2013, but witnesses told jurors she wanted to reconcile with her husband. Anita Bucki left the home of her friend, Julie Zietlow, on April 25 to meet with her husband. Zietlow told jurors she never saw her friend alive again.
Mark Bucki called police on April 26, 2013 to report his wife missing. Investigators who responded to the call believed there were suspicious circumstances surrounding Anita’s disappearance.
Anita Bucki remained a missing person until May 10, 2013, when her body was discovered in a swamp nearly 50 feet from the road in a remote area of Taylor County. Autopsy results showed she had been strangled and was stabbed seven times in the chest before she died.
The murder weapon was never found.
The state ultimately charged Mark Bucki with one count each of first-degree intentional homicide, hiding a corpse, and strangulation.
Following a two-day evidentiary hearing, the circuit court determined the handlers’ testimony regarding the cadaver and trailing dogs’ responses was admissible at trial. The court found the evidence was relevant and probative, and it was not likely to unfairly prejudice Mark Bucki, confuse the issues, or mislead the jury.
The court also found that Mark Bucki’s trial lawyers were not deficient in their defense at trial.
“On this record, we cannot find deficient performance in failing to do more to challenge the State’s theory,” the justices wrote, in their June 2 decision.
Bucki is currently serving his sentence at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, originally the Supermax Correctional Institution, in Boscobel.