Dave Relles is the kind of lawyer you get when you're a good guy trying to do the right thing. He's the lawyer Bryan Bazan picked to help with the enormous task of deciding how to allocate the $43,862.50 in reward money offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who killed his friend, Joel Marino.
"There's nothing simple about these things," says Relles, who played a lead role in defeating a proposed Indian casino in Madison in 2004. "It's complicated and confusing. People don't understand."
That's why Relles, who is offering his services pro bono, is pained in advance that Bazan may draw criticism over how things shook out: "Whenever these funds are set up, someone is pissed off."
A year ago this month, police arrested Adam Peterson for the stabbing death of Marino, 31, in January 2008. Peterson, 20, admitted to and was convicted of the crime and committed suicide in prison. This week, Relles made contact with four individuals selected to share in the reward.
The reward amounts are as follows: $3,070.38, $1,973.82, $1,315.88 and $219.32. (Bazan, explains Relles, "came up with a formula.") Together that totals $6,579.50, less than one-sixth the amount offered. The rest will be split evenly between two other funds established in Joel Marino's name: one that grants scholarships to music students and one that helps pay for medical equipment like pacemakers.
Why did the money offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Marino's killer not all go to people in the community who provided this information? Relles says it's because "the crime was solved principally 80%, 90%, 100% -- by police work," and police are not eligible for reward fund money.
All four reward recipients, says Relles, have requested anonymity, and for this reason he is not disclosing what precise role they played in helping solve the crime.
Relles says Bazan did exactly the right thing in talking to police and others who were able to identify what information was most valuable. "There were a number of people making contributions," he says. "Some may appear to be of tremendous significance but aren't."
The allocation decisions, Relles adds, were made in concert with Marino's family and the person who donated the largest portion of the reward fund amount.
But John Williamson, the owner of Sports World on State Street, wonders why the people who provided useful information did not get to split the entire amount.
"It was advertised as always billed as a reward fund," says Williamson. A Sports World employee, Livia Novitski, sold a backpack to Peterson that was found near the scene of the crime and helped police produce a remarkably accurate suspect sketch.
Novitski, who received $1,315, says she was initially "confused" that the reward money will not all go to citizens who helped solve the crime. But she's pleased the rest is going to worthy nonprofits and says it feels strange to benefit from such a "horrible" event. "I'm lucky to get any at all."
Isthmus was unable to reach John Broda, a disabled Madison man who told police he recognized the man in the sketch as Peterson and has been mentioned as a possible reward recipient.
Relles says at least two of the reward recipients, including the person allocated the largest share ($3,070), refused the money, asking that it go to the other funds. He says all were pleased with the process and result.
"To know that they helped solve the crime," says Relles, "was the real payment for them."