National Roundup

Court: Ticket scandal records should be public

ST. LOUIS (AP) - An appeals court ordered the St. Louis police department to turn over records of its internal investigation of a scandal involving several officers who gave friends and family members tickets to the 2006 World Series that had been confiscated from scalpers.

The eight officers and six supervisors were disciplined for giving away the tickets to the three games played in St. Louis during the series, in which the Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers in five games. But the police department refused to turn over the records of its internal probe, leading the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri to sue, saying the records should be released under Missouri's Sunshine Law.

A circuit judge agreed with the ACLU, and on Tuesday, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals concurred, ordering the records released.

"When government officials engage in on-the-job misconduct, the public has a right to know what happened and how it was investigated," Tony Rothert, the ACLU branch's legal director, said in a statement.

City officials did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday seeking comment.

In August, Circuit Judge Robert Dierker ordered the police department to pay the ACLU $100,000 in legal fees related to the case, saying the department "compounded its knowing violation of the Sunshine Law."

Police said the investigation began with a complaint from someone who said his confiscated tickets were used improperly during the World Series. Joe Mokwa, the police chief at the time, said the incident shook the public's trust in the department.

The exact number of confiscated tickets that were given away isn't known, but each had a value ranging from $50 to $250.

The internal affairs documents are being held by the circuit court. They could be released in about two weeks of police do not appeal the ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court. It wasn't clear if an appeal was planned. Messages seeking comment from the St. Louis Police Officers Association were not immediately returned.

Supreme Court rules in drug 'sale' case

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that giving cocaine to someone to hide is not the same as selling the drug.

The court reversed both the district court and appeals court which prohibited Abshir Abtidon Barrow from withdrawing his guilty plea. Barrow had been under investigation for dealing crack cocaine from his Faribault home.

Court documents say when Barrow left his home with his wife behind the wheel, officers pulled him over, frisked him and found crack cocaine in his pocket. Officers questioned Barrow's wife who said she was hiding more cocaine in her bra at her husband's request.

Barrow later pleaded guilty to selling cocaine, but sought to withdraw the plea in May 2013. The Star Tribune reports the Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court.

Man accused of killing alleged rapist on trial

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Defense attorneys and prosecutors agree that a Southern California college student pointed out a 24-year-old man as her rapist and then he had his truck rear-ended before he was kidnapped, brutally beaten and killed in April 1995.

Where they differ is on the role of Gianni Van in the murder of Gonzalo Ramirez, whose blindfolded, bloodied body was found on the side of a road.

At the opening of his trial Wednesday, prosecutors said Van, now 45, became enraged after his ex-girlfriend Norma Patricia Esparza told him that Ramirez had raped her and that he must be held responsible for the attack.

Van's lawyer said his client did not know of the plan to hurt Ramirez and feared he would suffer a similar fate if he snitched on a friend who carried out the killing.

The case has drawn international attention since Esparza - who went on to become a psychology professor and moved to France - was arrested in 2012, provoking an outcry from advocates for sexual assault victims who say the case sends a chilling message to rape survivors.

During opening statements, Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray showed graphic photos of Ramirez's blindfolded, mangled body lying on the side of the road in a pool of blood.

"Gonzalo Ramirez was targeted, and he was targeted by somebody who was going to make sure he suffered," Murray said. "Whether Norma Esparza was sexually assaulted or not, for our purposes today, doesn't matter. What matters is she told the defendant that."

Van is charged with murder during the commission of a kidnapping. If convicted, he could get life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Van's lawyer, Jeremy Dolnick, said his client knew nothing of the plans to kidnap or kill Ramirez but was shown his severely beaten body strung up by chains at his friend's auto transmission shop and warned he would face the same fate if he ever snitched.

"He didn't ask anyone to kill anyone. He never had homicidal thoughts of revenge," Dolnick told jurors, adding that Van had confided in his friend about Esparza's rape and the friend and friend's employee took matters into their own hands.

Esparza, 40, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in an agreement with prosecutors last year. She is expected to receive a six-year sentence in exchange for testifying at the trials of Van and another defendant. A fourth defendant also pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors.

South Carolina
Prosecutor: Death penalty doesn't apply

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A prosecutor says it doesn't look as if the death penalty can be sought in the case of a black South Carolina man who was fatally shot as he ran from a white police officer.

Former North Charleston officer Michael Slager is charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott. The April 4 shooting was captured on cellphone video and showed Slager firing eight shots at Scott as he ran following a traffic stop.

Meanwhile, the case has been assigned by the state's chief justice to a black judge from Kingstree, South Carolina, about 70 miles from Charleston.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson released a statement this week saying that, based on the facts so far, the death penalty doesn't appear to apply. Under state law, death can only be sought in a killing with aggravating circumstances such as robbery and kidnapping among a number of other circumstances.

"Based on the facts revealed thus far, it does not appear South Carolina's death penalty provision applies in this case because there are no statutory aggravating circumstances present," the solicitor's statement said.

Slager faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted.

Published: Fri, Apr 17, 2015