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Appeals court upholds murder conviction of former dairy princess

WAUSAU, Wis. -- An appeals court Wednesday refused to grant a new trial for former Marathon County Dairy Princess Lori Esker, who was convicted of strangling her former boyfriend's girlfriend in a jealous rage.

The former pageant queen was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in the Sept. 20, 1989, death of Lisa Cihaski, 21, of Birnamwood. Esker admitted strangling Cihaski during an argument in a parked car, but claimed it was not deliberate. She is serving life in prison.

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Esker, 22, asked for a new trial, claiming her confessions to the crime were involuntary because authorities used fundamentally unfair and psychologically coercive tactics and jury instructions were confusing and misleaading.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals rejected her arguments.

Esker, from Hatley, had been a friend of Cihaski when they attended Wittenberg-Birnamwood High School, where Cihaski graduated in 1986 and Esker in 1987.

Prosecutors claimed Esker strangled Cihaski with a belt in a fit of jealousy over Bill Buss, who was dating Cihaski and planned to give her an engagement ring on her birthday Oct. 25. Esker previously had dated Buss and had talked about marrying him.

Cihaski was strangled as she sat in her car with Esker outside a Wausau motel where Cihaski was assistant sales and catering manager. The focus at Esker's trial was whether she intentionally killed Cihaski or whether mitigating factors reduced the offense to a lesser degree of homicide.

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Esker, who was Marathon County dairy princess at the time of the killing but resigned after being charged with homicide, confessed separately to a polygraph examiner and a detective.

In her postconviction motion for a new trial, Esker claimed she was coerced into confessing because her interrogators used unfair pressure and tactics, including fast-paced questioning and manipulation.

However, Judge Michael Hoover wrote for the appeals court that the techniques of the questioners did not overpower Esker's ability to resist or make rational decisions.

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