Court Digest

Man convicted in uncle’s slaying insults judge

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) — A northern Indiana man convicted in his uncle’s fatal 2015 shooting insulted a judge with profanity before he sentenced him to 63 years in prison.

A jury found Charles David Bussard, 31, guilty of murder in August in the January 2015 slaying of his uncle, Byron Bussard. He was sentenced Thursday, The Elkhart Truth reported.

Authorities believe Byron Bussard, 45, was shot in the remote house he and his nephew shared near Bristol, and that his body was then burned along with the mattress to his bed.

Elkhart Circuit Court Judge Michael Christofeno said Thursday that Bussard not only burned his uncle’s body but he also ground up the remaining bones and flushed them down the toilet.

Byron Bussard’s disappearance went unsolved until Charles Bussard contacted authorities in 2020 and told detectives he was the only person on the planet who could shed light on his uncle’s disappearance.

During Thursday’s sentencing, Bussard insulted the judge while recounting what he said were his uncle’s last remarks to him before he shot him to death.

“I’m gonna say to you what my uncle said to me right before he got shot,” Bussard said before using an expletive.

Ex-deputy charged with stealing dead woman’s credit cards from home

SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — A former Orange County sheriff’s deputy stole credit cards from a dead woman’s Southern California home and used them to make purchases from QVC and an automotive parts store, prosecutors said Friday.

The charges come after ex-deputy Steve Hortz was previously indicted on multiple felonies in connection with breaking into the home of a dead man  to steal more than $27,000 in guns and other items in July 2020. He has pleaded not guilty, and that case remains ongoing.

The  Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced Hortz’s second case in a news release on Friday. His arraignment is scheduled for Oct. 26.

“This individual was called to assist grieving families in a time of need and instead he betrayed their trust,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in the release.

Hortz’s attorney, Shaheen Manshoory, said prosecutors have not turned over much information to them in the case.

“At this time, we will let the process play out in court,” Manshoory said in an email Friday.

Authorities arrested Hortz last year in that case, alleging that the 12-year veteran had responded to the man’s home in Yorba Linda for a welfare check on July 20, 2020, and found the homeowner dead of natural causes. Hortz allegedly returned to the home several times —  including once on duty wearing his deputy uniform — to steal the man’s belongings.

The burglaries were captured on home surveillance video, and a probate attorney reported the thefts to the sheriff’s department. Hortz was arrested on Sept. 10, 2020, and resigned 20 days later instead of being fired. He was indicted on three felony counts of second-degree burglary and two felony counts of grand theft of a firearm.

Authorities have since discovered that in August 2020 — before Hortz was identified as a suspect in the deceased man’s case — he was called to the home of a dead woman in Yorba Linda, where he allegedly stole three credit cards.

Prosecutors allege that he tried to make thousands of dollars worth of unauthorized online purchases — the majority of which were declined — and have some of them sent to his home.

Hortz was charged Friday with one felony count of identity theft, one felony count of grand theft embezzlement, and four felony counts of attempted grand theft. He faces four years and four months in state prison if convicted in the credit card case.

“Like many members of the public, I am extremely disappointed by the inexcusable actions of Mr. Hortz and his failure to uphold his responsibilities while employed as a peace officer,” Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a statement Friday. “Mr. Hortz has been separated from the Department, and will be held accountable for violating the public’s trust through the criminal justice process.”

Ex-school counselor gets new trial on charges of raping boy

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A former central Kansas middle school counselor convicted of raping a student will get a new trial to consider her arguments that the then-13-year-old boy forced her to have sex the first time and blackmailed her into continuing.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the attorney handling Brooke Dinkel’s trial in 2014 did not provide her with an adequate defense and sent her case back to Saline County District Court.

A jury convicted Dinkel  of two counts of raping a child under 14, and she was sentenced to nearly 14 years in prison. She had been a counselor at Smoky Valley Middle School in Lindsborg.

The court split 4-3 on whether she received an effective defense from her attorney.

The majority, led by Justice Eric Rosen, said her lawyer presented her claims that she did not voluntarily have sex but did not adequately explain to the jury why that meant it should find her not guilty and did not ask the judge to provide unusual instructions on the law to jurors in keeping with “the uniqueness of the factual scenario.”

 The dissenters, led by Justice Evelyn Wilson, a former trial-court judge, said the attorney’s handling of the case was “objectively reasonable.”

Washington, D.C.
Feds charge cop with murder in police pursuit death

WASHINGTON (AP) — An officer in the nation’s capital has been indicted on a murder charge for his role in a fatal vehicle accident during a police chase that sparked two days of protests and clashes.

Federal prosecutors announced Friday that Terrence Sutton, 37, was indicted on second-degree murder, conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges in connection with the death of 20-year-old Karon Hylton-Brown, who died after a pursuit in Washington, D.C. in October 2020.

Hylton died after his moped crashed into a car while he was being pursued by Sutton and other police officers.

City police regulations forbid high-speed pursuits over minor traffic violations. Police have said officers tried to stop Hylton because he was riding his moped on the sidewalk without a helmet.

Body camera footage released by the Metropolitan Police Department showed the officers in a police cruiser chasing Hylton for several blocks with their lights flashing, at one point doing a U-turn when Hylton reverses course right in front of the cruiser. The chase continues into an alley. When Hylton’s vehicle emerges from the alley, it slams into the passenger side door of a passing car.

The pursuit appeared to violate the department’s policy prohibiting chases.

A police lieutenant, Andrew Zabavsky, 53, who prosecutors say was the highest-ranking officer at the scene, was also indicted on conspiracy and obstruction charges. Prosecutors allege he withheld information from other police officials and delayed notifying internal investigators about the incident.

Sutton and Zabavsky pleaded not guilty in court Friday. Sutton’s attorney, J. Michael Hannon, said the policeman believed he was the victim of a “tragic double-cross of his commitment to law enforcement,” The Washington Post reported.
Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said Friday that the department would fully cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office, noting, “This is the process of accountability.”

Massage therapist gets 25 years to life for sex crimes

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — A judge has sentenced a massage therapist to three prison terms of 25 years to life for several sex crimes against five people, including a child and three female soccer players at the University of Kansas.

Douglas County Judge Sally Pokorny sentenced Lawrence massage therapist Shawn P. O’Brien, 50, on Friday after jurors in August found him guilty on eight counts.

Three of the charges accuse O’Brien of indecent liberties with a child under the age of 14 for fondling a girl who was either 9 or 10 on three occasions between 2013 and 2015. All three resulted in “hard 25” sentences, meaning he will have to serve at least 25 years before being eligible for parole. Pokorny said the three life sentences would be served concurrently, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The other five charges accuse him of sexual battery for fondling four women while giving them a massage to treat sports-related issues between 2016 and 2019. Three of the women played for the University of Kansas soccer team. The fourth woman was a university student who was a client at his office.

O’Brien had a contract with the university to provide massage treatments to many athletes on campus. That contract was terminated after initial charges were filed.

Deputy District Attorney Joshua Seiden told jurors during closing arguments that O’Brien used his credentials as a professional massage therapist as a guise to fondle the victims when he was giving them massages.

Seiden also pointed to the testimony from the soccer players who said that O’Brien fondled them while he was providing massage therapy for the team. He said O’Brien claimed to not remember any of the incidents with the athletes.

Defense attorney Philip Sedgwick argued that the case came down to a “he said, she said” situation and suggested the prosecutors did not present enough evidence to convict O’Brien. He said athletes did not complain about his methods or let him know that what he was doing made them uncomfortable.

Jury orders city of Roy to pay $3.26M to men shot by police

ROY, Wash. (AP) — A federal jury has awarded two men who live south of Tacoma a total of $3.26 million for injuries suffered when they were shot by one of the town of Roy’s two police officers during a drunken joy ride in a 2019 snowstorm.

The verdict is one of the largest reached in the Western District of Washington involving a nonfatal police shooting, The Seattle Times reported.

The jury found Officer Chris Johnson used excessive force when he fired four rounds into the cab of a small four-wheel-drive off-road vehicle, striking driver David Rice in the groin and shoulder. Passenger Seth Donahue was hit in the wrist by a bullet.

The verdict, which came after a 13-day trial in federal court in Tacoma, awarded $2,208,000 to Rice and $1,049,000 to Donahue.

Johnson claimed he was struck by the vehicle after he exited his police car and tried to stop it following a pursuit. The plaintiffs claim they didn’t know they were being chased and that Johnson ambushed them at an intersection.

Expert testimony and surveillance video from a nearby business introduced at trial showed the officer did not have emergency lights on and that he shined a spotlight into the interior of the Polaris RZR — which Rice said blinded him — before firing.

Man who says he hit girlfriend’s toddler charged with murder

IRVING, Texas (AP) — A man has been charged with killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son in suburban Dallas after confessing to hitting the boy with his fists, police said.

Irving police said Friday that Arturo Santiago Pena-Almanza Jr., 23, was charged with capital murder in the death of Jeremiah Degrate Rios.

Police said officers and fire department personnel responding to an unconscious person call Tuesday morning found the child dead inside an apartment.

After investigators determined the death wasn’t an accident, Pena-Almanza was arrested Wednesday on a charge of abandoning or endangering a child, police said.

During an interview with investigators Thursday, Pena-Almanza confessed to hitting the child several times because the child wiped feces on him, police said. Pena-Almanza’s charge was then upgraded to capital murder.

An autopsy found multiple blunt force trauma injuries to the child’s body, including his head, according to an arrest warrant.

According to an arrest warrant, surveillance video showed Pena-Almanza leaving the apartment in the night with an alert and awake Jeremiah. When Pena-Almanza returned about 50 minutes later, Jeremiah appeared limp.

Pena-Almanza was being held Friday in Dallas County Jail. His bond was set at $500,000. Jail records did not list an attorney for him.