National Roundup

Burden of proof shifted in ‘stand your ground’

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida became the first state with a law that spells out that prosecutors, and not defendants, have the burden of proof in pretrial “stand your ground” hearings when Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill Friday.

The measure was among 16 bills that Scott signed, including a bill that gives students and school employees a broader right to express their religious viewpoint in schools.

The “stand your ground” bill was fought by prosecutors who say it will make their job more difficult to convict people who commit acts of violence and claim self-defense.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that defendants have to prove in pretrial hearings that they were defending themselves in order to avoid prosecution on charges for a violent act.

That led Republicans to seek to shift that burden. They argued that it protects a defendant’s constitutional right that presumes they are innocent until proven guilty. But opponents said it will embolden people to shoot to kill, and then claim self-defense knowing that the only witness against them can no longer testify.

Only four of the other 21 states with “stand your ground” laws mention burden of proof — Alabama, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina — and all place it on defendants.

Many states have long invoked “the castle doctrine,” allowing people to use deadly force to defend themselves in their own homes.

Florida changed that in 2005, so that even outside a home, a person has no duty to retreat and can “stand his or her ground” anywhere they are legally allowed to be. Other states followed suit, and “stand your ground” defenses became much more common in pre-trial immunity hearings and during trials.

The 2012 killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

New Jersey
School suspends teacher over altered pro-Trump yearbook photos

WALL, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey school district has suspended a teacher after yearbook photos of two high school students were altered to remove President Donald Trump’s name on their clothing.

Wall Township School Superintendent Cheryl Dyer told News 12 New Jersey on Monday the yearbook’s adviser was suspended while an investigation is underway.

One student wore a sweater vest with Trump’s name on it. Another student wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Trump Make America Great Again.” But neither feature appeared in the photos published in the yearbook.

The district also is probing why a Trump quote submitted by the freshman class president wasn’t included under her photo while a quote by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appeared under the senior class president’s photo.

Trial date set for man accused of killing officer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A trial date has been set for a Florida man accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer.

Orange County Chief Judge Fred Lauten said Monday that the trial for Markeith Loyd will begin Sept. 10 in Orlando.

Loyd is accused of gunning down 42-year-old Lt. Debra Clayton in January weeks after authorities say he fatally shot 24-year-old Sade Dixon. Loyd eluded police for more than a week.

He faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder.

The case prompted a legal skirmish between the state attorney in Orlando and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced in March she ­wouldn’t seek the death penalty in Loyd’s case or any others. Scott responded by transferring almost two dozen death penalty cases, including Loyd’s, to another prosecutor.

New York
Fired Fox exec calls lawsuit against her a ‘money grab’

NEW YORK (AP) — A former financial executive at Fox News Channel says a racial discrimination lawsuit against her is “nothing more than a meritless and reprehensible money grab.”

Lawyers for Judith Slater, who ran the accounting department at the network but was fired earlier this year when some employees alleged she ran a racially hostile environment, said in court papers filed Monday that their client sometimes used humor to lessen pressure at work.

Slater said that the main plaintiffs in the case — Tichaona Brown, Tabrese Wright and Monica Douglas — were trying to turn reality upside down by portraying a friendly relationship as hostile. In the original lawsuit, Slater was accused of racial hostility over several years, including discussing her physical fear of black people and mocking the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

Monday’s motion said Brown and Douglas “regularly mocked Slater for her reserved appearance, her lack of knowledge about contemporary culture and the way she danced.”

Douglas Wigdor, lawyer for the accusers, noted that Fox itself had referred to Slater’s behavior as abhorrent.

“Any attempt to walk back that characterization and suggest that our clients were willing participants in this racist behavior is a classic and transparent attempt to somehow blame the victim,” he said.

Several other former and present Fox employees have joined in the lawsuit. Monday’s motion argues that two of the people should be dropped from the case.

Prosecutor plans appeal after judge overturns model’s conviction

CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio county prosecutor says she’ll file an appeal with the state Supreme Court after appellate judges overturned the conviction and sentence of a former model accused of trying to hire a hit man.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Tara Lambert was sentenced last year to seven years in prison after a jury convicted her of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder. Prosecutors say Lambert wanted to kill the mother of her two stepdaughters and provided a $125 down payment to a hit man who was actually an undercover police detective.

An appeals court ruled the indictment wasn’t specific enough and the case shouldn’t have gone to trial.

Pickaway County prosecutor Judy Wolford says the indictment was clear and Lambert knew what she was doing.

Lambert’s attorney has said she was mentally fragile and the officer baited her.