National Roundup

North Dakota
About $500,000 in criminal assets forfeited in year's time

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The state of North Dakota seized about $500,000 in forfeited assets from criminal activity in a nearly a year's time.

In the first report compiling statewide data on civil asset forfeitures, nearly $522,000 in cash was seized statewide from August 2019 to June 2020.

Of that total, about $34,000 was returned to defendants and $10,000 went to North Dakota Child Support Enforcement. The remaining amount was forfeited and divided among the agencies involved in investigation and prosecution of the criminal cases, the report showed.

In 2019, the law was changed to require a higher standard of proof for forfeitures and a conviction to initiate forfeiture proceedings in court.

Some critics felt the new law didn't go far enough to guard against so-called "policing for profit" in North Dakota, a practice law enforcement discounted, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

Bismarck Police Sgt. Mike Bolme, who handles the department's seizures and forfeitures, said "we have a solid, fair system for asset forfeiture."

"I just feel like we're doing it right in North Dakota, and after the changes, I think it's even better," he said.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Troy Seibel told the House Judiciary Committee last month that his office welcomes the scrutiny.

"As we have always said, we do not think that this process is being abused by law enforcement, so we do not oppose transparency," Seibel said.

Man found guilty of killing wife who went missing in 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — A jury late Saturday night convicted a Wisconsin man accused of killing his wife who went missing in 2013 and whose body has never been found.

James Prokopovitz, 75, was charged in 2019 with murder and three other counts for allegedly killing his wife, Victoria. He was the last person known to have to seen her on April 25, 2013. Her purse, cell phone and ID were all found at her home in Pittsfield.

Victoria Prokopovitz was 59 when she disappeared.

James Prokopovitz did not show much emotion as a judge read the verdict. He is scheduled for sentencing on April 30. He faces life in prison.

Brown County Deputy District Attorney Wendy Lemkuil had focused her closing arguments on Prokopovitz's demeanor after his wife disappeared and his inconsistent statements to investigators. She noted he didn't join in some of the searches near their home in Pittsfield, about 15 miles northwest of Green Bay.

Prokopovitz's attorney, John D'Angelo, did not call any witnesses or allow his client to testify. He called the state's evidence circumstantial and said it's a missing person case not a homicide.

Judge William Atkinson commended jurors for the way they handled "a great burden that we threw upon" them.

Judge approves $650M Facebook privacy lawsuit settlement

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal judge on Friday approved a $650 million settlement of a privacy lawsuit against Facebook for allegedly using photo face-tagging and other biometric data without the permission of its users.

U.S. District Judge James Donato approved the deal in a class-action lawsuit that was filed in Illlinois in 2015. Nearly 1.6 million Facebook users in Illinois who submitted claims will be affected.

Donato called it one of the largest settlements ever for a privacy violation.

"It will put at least $345 into the hands of every class member interested in being compensated," he wrote, calling it "a major win for consumers in the hotly contested area of digital privacy."

Jay Edelson, a Chicago attorney who filed the lawsuit, told the Chicago Tribune  that the checks could be in the mail within two months unless the ruling is appealed.

"We are pleased to have reached a settlement so we can move past this matter, which is in the best interest of our community and our shareholders," Facebook, which is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area, said in a statement.

The lawsuit accused the social media giant of violating an Illinois privacy law by failing to get consent before using facial-recognition technology to scan photos uploaded by users to create and store faces digitally.

The state's Biometric Information Privacy Act allowed consumers to sue companies that didn't get permission before harvesting data such as faces and fingerprints.

The case eventually wound up as a class-action lawsuit in California.

Facebook has since changed its photo-tagging system.

Appeals court finds judge made error in double-murder trial

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland appeals court has agreed the judge who presided over the trial of man convicted in two slayings erred by allowing certain expert testimony.

The ruling by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals could lead to a new trial for Kirk Byron Matthews, 60, of Anne Arundel County, the Capital Gazette of Annapolis reported.

Matthews was found guilty of second-degree murder and other counts in the 2017 shootings of Leslie Michael Smith, 48, and Linda Lynn McKenzie, 44. Trial Judge Laura Ripken sentenced Matthews to 80 years in prison.
Matthews has maintained his innocence and filed an appeal shortly after sentencing, focusing on three aspects of the prosecution and the trial court's decisions.

The three-judge appeals court panel  ruled  last week that Ripken shouldn't have allowed testimony from an FBI scientist who analyzed footage of the incident to determine the shooter's height.

During the trial, a woman told jurors she saw a tall, thin white man with a gun walk past her house before hearing gunshots. Matthews is Black. Prosecutors said Matthews was an armed guard of sorts who maintained order so a nearby drug market avoided police.

Ripken is now on the Court of Special Appeals. She wasn't involved in this appeal.