National Roundup

Conviction, death penalty upheld in beheading

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of man in the beheading of a co-worker in the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

The court rejected claims that Alton Alexander Nolen, 36, was mentally ill and incompetent to stand trial in addition to improper jury selection, improper photographic evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

Nolen's defense attorneys did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

Nolen was convicted and sentenced to death in for the 2014 beheading of 54-year-old Colleen Hufford at Vaughan Foods.

Prosecutors said Nolen killed Hufford and wounded another co-worker after being suspended from his job at the plant for making threatening statements to co-workers.

Court reinstates conviction of Michael Flynn business partner

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday reinstated the conviction of a one-time business partner of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for acting as an unregistered agent of the Turkish government.

A jury in Alexandria convicted Bijan Kian at a 2019 trial. After the conviction, though, the trial judge, Anthony Trenga, intervened and overturned the conviction.

He ruled that there was no way a rational jury could have concluded from the evidence that Kian was a foreign agent acting under the control of Turkey.

Prosecutors' trial plans were thrown into disarray on the eve of trial when they opted against putting Flynn on the stand, even though he had been expected to be their star witness. Flynn acknowledged in a separate case that he made false statements about work he performed that benefited Turkey; he had hoped at one point that his cooperation with prosecutors in Kian's case would help him receive a lighter sentence in his own case. But he later sought to rescind his guilty plea and stopped cooperating with prosecutors.

The case spun off from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian election interference.

Prosecutors alleged Kian and Flynn were acting at Turkey's behest when they undertook a project to discredit an exiled cleric, Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in the U.S.

Kian and Flynn were partners in the Flynn Intel Group. Gulen has been sought for extradition by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who blames Gulen for an attempted coup in that country.

Flynn wrote a November 2016 op-ed piece comparing Gulen to former Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Prosecutors said Turkey directed the effort through a middleman, businessman Kamil Alptekin, and pointed to a series of irregular payments flowing back and forth between Kian and Alptekin.

Trenga, though, said in his ruling that "there is no substantial evidence that Rafiekian agreed to operate subject to the direction and control of the Turkish government" and that there was no "competent evidence" that Alptekin was an intermediary for the Turkish government.

But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, in a unanimous ruling, said Trenga should have been more deferential to the jury.

Judge James Wynn, an Obama appointee, wrote that the trial judge "gave insufficient deference to the 'almost invariable assumption of the law' that the jury was capable of following its ... instructions."

Judges Paul Niemayer, a George H.W. Bush appointee, and Barbara Milano Keenan, an Obama appointee, joined in Wynn's opinion,

The appeals court also rejected granting Kian, also known as Bijan Rafiekian, a new new trial. So if the ruling is not appealed, Kian's case will go back to Alexandria for sentencing.

Kian's lawyers did not immediately respond to request for comment Thursday.

Bond set at $225,000 for man who shot
ex-NFL star
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Bail was set at $225,000 Thursday for the man who shot ex-New Orleans Saints star Will Smith in New Orleans in 2016 following a confrontation over a traffic crash.
Cardell Hayes was sentenced to 25 years in prison for a manslaughter conviction in Smith's shooting and attempted manslaughter for wounding Smith's wife. But the verdict from the jury was not unanimous — jurors voted 10-2 — and has since been ruled unconstitutional.
It was not immediately clear when Hayes, who has not been free since his arrest, would be released. But it appeared that the court and his attorneys expected him to make bail during detailed discussions about the conditions of his release pending a July 12 trial. The bail amount set Thursday was far less than the $1.75 million set when he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder.
State Judge Camille Buras noted that prosecutors plan to proceed with prosecution for manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, not the original charges. She set bail at $175,000 on the manslaughter charge and $50,000 for attempted manslaughter.
Buras ruled from the bench at the courthouse in New Orleans. Smith's widow, Racquel Smith, and Hayes both witnessed the hearing over Zoom.
Hayes insisted at trial that he shot Smith in self-defense during a confrontation over a traffic crash. But he was the only trial witness to say Smith held a gun or fired it. A handgun was found loaded but unused in Smith's car.
Buras had delayed an immediate bond ruling at a hearing earlier this month, noting questions on whether Hayes could legally be tried on a second-degree murder charge after the first jury came back with a lesser verdict.
Smith, a 34-year-old father of three, was a defensive leader on the Saints team that lifted spirits in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. He helped carry the team to a winning season in 2006 and a Super Bowl victory in 2010.
Hayes, 33, who owned a tow-truck business, had played semi-pro football and is the father of a young son.