Matthew Wilks didn't just wake up Friday morning and decide he was going to kill someone. The sickening murder he allegedly committed--shooting Department of Corrections officer Tracey Smith during an apparent road rage incident--was in one sense a snap decision.
In another sense, though, it was a crime two decades in the making. He has spent literally his entire adult life in trouble with the law and with each encounter, the Milwaukee County justice system dealt him break after break even as his crimes grew steadily more severe. As a result, Wilks grew steadily more emboldened, making the all-too-common calculation that the law would never really catch up to him.
In September of 2001, when Wilks was 17 years old, he was charged with operating a vehicle without the owner's consent. After posting $500 bond, he was released from the Milwaukee County Jail but violated the terms of that bond when he was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana two months later.
Wilks pleaded guilty to both charges and on the operating without consent charge and Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Richard Sankovitz sentenced him to two years in the House of Correction with two years of extended supervision, but stayed that sentence and instead imposed four years of probation.
On the marijuana possession charge, Judge John Seifert sentenced Wilks to three days in jail with credit for three days of time served. Even though he had stolen a car--theoretically facing a maximum prison sentence of 15 years--and violated his bond, he didn't serve a day behind bars.
Unsurprisingly, Wilks violated his probation in April of 2005 and in December of 2006 Judge Mel Flanagan ordered him to spend 10 months behind bars and the remainder of the original sentence on extended supervision.
Almost immediately after Wilks was released from prison, he was arrested aand charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine as a repeat offender.
This sentencing modifier doubled the potential maximum sentence on the drug charge and meant Wilks could have been subject to 16 years in prison, but Judge Jeffrey Kremers sentenced him to just 16 months (with credit for 122 days of time served) and two years of extended supervision.
Wilks was very obviously a drug dealer and even though his convictions made him a three-time felon, he skated with minimal time served. The message was received loud and clear: Wilks was immune from the serious legal consequences of his criminal lifestyle.
Last November, Wilks was found liable when someone driving his car fled from police officers. Under Wisconsin statutes, when a driver refuses to pull over and manages to elude police (who have been for years in Milwaukee under strict orders not to pursue suspects who flee), the owner of the vehicle is presumed liable for the violation and fined $519. This is obviously preferable to potential felony charges if pulled over, so criminals in Milwaukee have learned to simply flee, assume officers won't chase them, and get hit with the fine.
Like most criminals who are, Wilks--who was almost certainly driving his own car when it eluded police--never bothered to pay the fine. Why would he? He didn't face any real consequences for car theft, cocaine dealing, and illegally carrying a gun, so of course there wouldn't be any real consequences for stiffing the county out of $519.
Consequences were never real to Matthew Wilks, so it sadly isn't surprising that on a sunny Friday afternoon, he never weighed the consequences of shooting a woman after a fender bender.
"I'll kill you, bitch!" he reportedly screamed before murdering 47 year-old Tracey Smith in front of the 17 year-old son she was giving a driving lesson. Of course, he drove off, assuming--as he had just a few months earlier--that the police wouldn't chase him, that the law would never catch up with him.
This time, though, it finally did...only too late for a woman who, in a sad irony, worked as a corrections officer at the state prison where Matthew Wilks might have been locked up if anyone in the Milwaukee County justice system ever took his criminal career as seriously as he did.
The justice system didn't make Wilks into a murderer, but it repeatedly showed him (and every one of his cohorts) that murder is about the only crime that it takes seriously. Car theft? Probation. Drug dealing and carrying an illegal handgun? A few months in jail.
Naturally, when police arrested Wilks over the weekend, he was carrying an illegal handgun and drugs that he intended to sell. Nothing about his behavior was in any way modified by the repeated breaks the Milwaukee County justice system showed him; his crimes simply became too extreme for it to ignore any longer.
Quite frankly, this injustice has become too extreme to ignore any longer. Far too many Matthew Wilkses in Milwaukee believe themselves to be invincible and far too many Tracey Smiths are paying the price.