Court Roundup

Appeals court orders new trial in tobacco case

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri appeals court has ordered a third trial in an Independence family’s lawsuit against tobacco company Brown & Williamson.
The court on Tuesday threw out a $1.5 million punitive judgment the company was ordered to pay to the family of Barbara Smith, who died in 2000 after smoking Kool cigarettes for nearly 50 years. That verdict came after a trial in 2009.
In the first trial in 2005, a Jackson County jury awarded the family $20 million in punitive damages but that verdict was overturned on appeal.
Brown & Williamson is now part of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The Kansas City Star reports the appeals court ruled Tuesday that Brown & Williamson’s lawyers should not have been allowed to argue R.J. Reynolds was not liable for punitive damages.

Ex-utility chief says he’s too ill to stand  trial

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana’s former top utility regulator is asking the state appeals court to head off his trial on official misconduct charges because he is undergoing treatment for a life-threatening bone marrow disease.
David Lott Hardy was indicted in December on charges that as chairman of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission he allowed the agency’s top lawyer to keep overseeing cases involving Duke Energy even though he knew the attorney was trying to land a job at the utility company.
The Indianapolis Star reports Hardy’s doctor says in court documents that Hardy has made more than 20 clinical visits during the past two years, involving numerous blood transfusions. Hardy’s attorney says a trial would hurt his health.
The Marion County prosecutor’s office says it will continue to push for a trial.

Appeals court issues stay in retrial of 3 men

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A state appellate court has issued a temporary stay in the retrial of three men once convicted in the kidnapping and torture killing of a young Knoxville couple.
The Knoxville News Sentinel  reported the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals is requiring defense attorneys to respond by Monday.
Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ordered new trials for Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas, in the January 2007 slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
The stay follows an appeal by the state Attorney General’s Office of Blackwood’s refusal to step down from hearing the cases.
New trials were ordered after the drug addiction of the trial judge in the cases was revealed.

New York
Teen admits guilt in high school friend’s death

MALONE, N.Y. (AP) — A northern New York teenager with no driver’s license has admitted to smoking marijuana before crashing a car last December, killing a 16-year-old friend and severely injuring another teen.
The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh reports that 17-year-old Tanya Menke of Brushton pleaded guilty in Franklin County Court to criminally negligent homicide in the death of Brook Lyon of Moira.
Authorities say Menke only had a learner’s permit and had smoked pot before her car crashed on a road Brandon on Dec. 7. Lyon was killed and 17-year-old Alexis Colette of Brushton suffered serious injuries. Menke also pleaded guilty to vehicular assault for the injuries Colette suffered.
All three were students at Brushton-Moira Central School.
Menke’s sentence will be based on whether a county court judge determines if she should be granted youthful-offender status.

U.S. high court declines to hear murder appeal

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear appeal from William Dewayne Savell, who was convicted in 2004 in Neshoba County for the murder of Mandy Lee Davis.
Savell was given a life sentence.
Savell was accused of killing Davis in 2003. Testimony from law enforcement officers was that Savell claimed Davis’ death was an accident.
Prosecutors said Davis died from nine stab wounds to the left side of the chest. They said her body was dismembered and her remains were found in a pond in the Burnside community.
The state Court of Appeals denied Savell’s post-conviction petition last year.

Judge recuses self in sex crimes case

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court has appointed a special judge to preside over the Forrest County case of a former educator and nursery worker accused of two sex crimes against children.
The Hattiesburg American reports William F. Coleman will conduct proceedings in the two criminal cases of 27-year-old Wesley Craig Topp accused of sexual battery and touching a child for lustful purposes.
The decision to appoint Coleman came after Forrest County Circuit Court Judge Bob Helfrich recused himself from both of Topp’s cases immediately after Topp was served his indictment.
In his recusal order, Helfrich said he knows the defendant and his family, and they attend the same church.

Former GOP official goes forward with lawsuit

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A Republican Party official in northern Idaho is moving forward with a defamation lawsuit against a woman who posted online comments about missing party funds.
Former Kootenai County Republican Party Chairwoman Tina Jacobson of Rathdrum sued Linda Cook after learning Cook posted a comment on The Spokesman-Review’s Huckleberries online blog asking if $10,000 allegedly missing from the party’s coffers was “stuffed inside Tina’s blouse.”
Jacobson’s attorney amended the court filing Monday to argue that Cook is in breach of contract for refusing to abide by a settlement agreement that required her to make a public apology and a donation to charity.
Cook says she is prepared to defend herself in court and the breach of contract claim “is going to be a matter of strenuous contention.”

Judge declines request to bar text messages

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — A judge has denied a request that text messages be thrown out in the case against a former cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals who is charged with having sex with a 17-year-old student when she was a teacher in northern Kentucky.
The Kentucky Enquirer reports that in a ruling issued Tuesday, Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia M. Summe said she found that the district judge who approved the warrant for the text messages was “neutral and detached.”
Sarah Jones is facing a sex abuse charge. Her attorney, Eric Deters, said during a hearing last month that District Judge Kenneth Easterling shouldn’t have granted the warrant because he knew the victim, but Easterling denied having any prior contact with the teen.
The trial is set to begin on Oct. 10.

Prosecutors want stronger count in brother killing

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Prosecutors are asking a Utah judge to reinstate a stronger charge against a 27-year-old West Haven man accused in the shooting death of his teenage brother on a camping trip.
Juab County Attorney Jared Eldridge argues Eric Charlton was being reckless when he pointed a gun at 17-year-old Cameron Charlton and pulled the trigger.
He’s challenging a judge’s recent ruling that the older brother should face a misdemeanor count of negligent homicide rather than felony manslaughter.
Cameron Charlton was shot in the head on May 28 while camping with family and friends at Yuba Lake State Park.
Police say it was an accident that happened when the older brother was showing the teen a gun.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports Eldridge wants a manslaughter charge and a jury trial.