National Roundup

Mississippi
New trial ordered in 2007 slaying of JSU student

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A man convicted of the 2007 killing of his ex-girlfriend, Jackson State University student Latasha Norman, has been awarded a new trial.
The Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday said a Hinds County judge erred in failing to tell jurors in Stanley Cole’s trial that they could consider a manslaughter conviction as an alternative to a murder conviction.
The jury convicted Cole of murder in February 2010. Cole has acknowledged killing the 20-year-old woman, but maintains it was an accident. Cole said the two were fighting in a car when Norman hit her head and he couldn’t resuscitate her.
He was sentenced to life in prison.
The Appeals Court, a 7-3 decisions, said defendants are entitled to jury instructions that present their side of the case.
“Had the jurors believed Cole’s statement, they could not have applied those facts to the law because the trial judge provided them no instruction on the law of manslaughter,” wrote Appeals Judge Eugene Fair Jr.
Appeals Judge Tyree Irving, in a dissent joined by two other judges, said a manslaughter instruction would imply that Cole’s actions occurred during the heat of the moment.
“There was no evidence here that Cole was in a state of violent or uncontrollable rage. Therefore, his confession alone is insufficient to justify a ... manslaughter instruction,” Irving said.
The case drew widespread attention for two weeks in November 2007 while police searched for the missing student.
Norman went missing after a class on Nov. 13, 2007. Her body was found Nov. 29, 2007, in a wooded area of north Jackson near Tougaloo College.
About a month before her disappearance, Norman filed an assault charge and accused Cole of hitting her in the face in the parking lot of a Pearl restaurant.

Alabama
Lawyers get $553K for work, more possible

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Two court-appointed lawyers who represented Amy Bishop before she pleaded guilty to shooting six colleagues — killing three — at the University of Alabama in Huntsville will receive about $550,000 from the state for their work, and more payments could be coming.
Circuit Judge Alan Mann ordered a payment of $452,681 on Tuesday for Barry Abston, one of three attorneys who represented Bishop at taxpayer expense on capital murder and attempted murder charges after she was declared indigent.
Mann earlier ruled that another defense lawyer, Roy Miller, would get $100,426. Mann also ruled that attorney Robert Tuten was due compensation for his defense work on the complex case, but the judge did not immediately set an amount.
Some of the payments to lawyers could include thousands of dollars in expenses for testing by mental health experts or medical scans, but a breakdown amount wasn’t available.
While Abston did not return a message seeking comment, Miller said his payment included several thousand dollars for travel and lodging for a week in Massachusetts, Bishop’s home state.
“We have to front capital cases in Alabama,” said Miller. “We don’t get paid until it’s over.”
Bishop, a biology professor educated at Harvard University, is serving life for her colleagues’ killings. She pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors that allowed her to avoid a possible death sentence.
While Bishop waived her right to an appeal under the agreement, she instructed her lawyers to challenge the conviction and sentence anyway. Abston, Miller and Tuten withdrew from the case, and the judge appointed a new attorney to represent Bishop during the appeal. Taxpayers will fund that lawyer, too.
Miller said he worked on the case for about 30 months and wasn’t paid until Mann approved his compensation request last week.
Bishop also had a court appointed lawyer in Massachusetts, where she was charged in the shotgun slaying of her brother — which originally was ruled an accident when it occurred in 1986 — after the Alabama shooting. Prosecutors in Massachusetts decided again pursuing the case after Bishop pleaded guilty in Alabama.

Montana
Snag in church abuse lawsuit negotiations

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Settlement negotiations between hundreds of alleged sex abuse victims and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena have hit a snag with the church’s insurers refusing to cover the claims.
The insurers and the diocese are locked in a dispute over the terms and conditions of the diocese’s insurance policies that date back to the 1970s — and whether some policies even existed. The sides disagree on how policies apply to the 324 claims of sex abuse stretching back decades by priests and nuns in homes, churches and school across western Montana.
The claims are from two combined lawsuits filed last year against the diocese and the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province. The plaintiffs, many of them Native Americans, say the diocese and the sisters knew or should have known about the abuse, but covered it up instead of stopping it.
Attorneys for the alleged victims filed a legal complaint on Nov. 14 asking for a declaratory judgment determining the scope and extent of the policies issued by the insurers. Around the same time, three of the diocese’s insurers filed a separate complaint in the District Court of Helena asking for a ruling that they have no obligation to defend or indemnify the diocese.
The alleged victims’ complaint says the 13 named insurance companies all issued policies covering the diocese or the Ursulines, and the insurers are now obligated to defend them against the claims.
The complaint by three insurance companies led by Travelers says the insurers have no obligation to defend the diocese or pay out any claims. In a complex legal argument, the insurers claim the dioceses’ insurance policies did not actually exist, or else were canceled or lost.
But if the policies actually exist, the insurers go on, they did not include liability coverage unless liability forms were included by mistake — a mistake the insurer did not discover until after the sex-abuse lawsuit was filed.
And even if a judge rules the policies included liability coverage, the insurers’ argument concludes, the diocese breached its contract because it did not notify the insurers the abuse was happening.
As a result, evidence has been lost, and victims, witnesses and perpetrators have died, and the diocese forfeited any right to coverage as a result of its breach of policy, the insurers claim.
A hearing updating the status of the settlement negotiations is scheduled for Nov. 4.8

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