Jury finds man accused of shooting ‘Weasel’s’ owner guilty
Edwin D. Hughes convicted of 3 felonies, 1 misdemeanor
BY KEVIN BONESKE
A 12-member jury returned a guilty verdict on four charges early Wednesday evening in Oneida County Circuit Court in the trial of a 30-year-old Appleton man accused of shooting the owner of Weasel’s Exotic Entertainment club in Three Lakes almost seven years ago.
The jury found Edwin D. Hughes guilty on felony counts of second-degree reckless injury, attempted armed robbery and armed burglary as well as a misdemeanor charge for intentionally accompanying a person who takes a vehicle without consent. Jurors had found Hughes not guilty of first-degree reckless injury and instead issued the guilty verdict for second-degree reckless injury.
Judge Patrick F. O’Melia ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set an April 12 sentencing date for Hughes, who remains in custody after having his bond revoked.
The case went to the jury Wednesday afternoon on the third day of the trial when Wisconsin Department of Justice assistant attorney general Annie Jay urged jurors in her closing statement to convict Hughes on all four charges based on the testimony of Daniel Frausto, 42, who stated he committed the crimes with Hughes and was previously sent to prison with the charges Frausto faced in Oneida County being consolidated with cases in other counties.
Jay said Hughes and Frausto “were professionals at this” with them also committing burglaries elsewhere. She stated the two wore masks in the commission of the crimes in Three Lakes, also seeing to it they wouldn’t leave forensic evidence at the scene.
The defense attorney representing Hughes, Elizabeth F. Svehlek, focused much of her closing statement on challenging the credibility of Frausto, referring to him as a “self-professed monster” with his testimony being “self-serving” in an effort to seek a reduction of his 60-year prison sentence.
Svehlek questioned where the evidence was other than Frausto’s testimony stating Hughes was at Dal Ponte’s house. She noted there was no weapon or bullet casing found as well as no fingerprints or footprints at the scene linking her client to the crimes.
Hughes was accused of being with Frausto and going with him to Dal Ponte’s house Feb. 9, 2011, pretending to be snowmobilers who ran out of gas. The two men reportedly first left after Dal Ponte had told them he had gas in the garage, but returned approximately 5 minutes later when he opened the door and was struck on the left side of his face.
The two men were accused of having a physical altercation with Dal Ponte and asking him where the money was. Hughes was accused of pushing a pistol against Dal Ponte’s leg while Frausto went through the house looking for money. Dal Ponte told authorities he refused to give them the combination to a safe Frausto threw off a balcony and they threatened to shoot him.
After Hughes shot Dal Ponte through his legs, Frausto, who said he didn’t intend to shoot Dal Ponte but was only trying to scare him into cooperating, stated he lost all interest in finishing the robbery and the two left the home, taking nothing other than the empty casing of the round that was fired. After fleeing the scene, Frausto said he later threw the gun in the Fox River in Kaukauna.
According to medical records cited in the court complaint, Dal Ponte was admitted Feb. 9, 2011, to St. Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander for gunshot wounds to both of his thighs and a closed head injury. Surgery was performed on the gunshot wounds and he was released from the hospital on Feb. 12, 2011.
Frausto stated March 6, 2012, in an interview at the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Office that he decided to rob the owner of Weasel’s, in part, because he had netted $50,000 in a similar burglary involving Sapphire’s Strip Club and that he and Hughes had made several trips to Oneida County to prepare for the crime. During one of the trips, Frausto said he observed a safe in Dal Ponte’s garage and determined Dal Ponte would likely have a safe inside his home.
Following the incident reported at Dal Ponte’s house, Weasel’s was destroyed by fire Dec. 31, 2011. Dal Ponte passed away at age 63 in April 2014.