Court Digest

Judge: Voters can challenge Greene’s reelection run

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal judge on Monday ruled that a group of Georgia voters can proceed with legal efforts seeking to disqualify U.S Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene from running for reelection to Congress, citing her role in the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The challenge filed last month with the Georgia secretary of state’s office alleges that Greene, a Republican, helped facilitate the Jan. 6, 2021, riot that disrupted Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. That violates a rarely cited provision of the 14th Amendment and makes her ineligible to run for reelection, according to the challenge.

The amendment says no one can serve in Congress “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress . . . to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same.” Ratified shortly after the Civil War, it was meant in part to keep representatives who had fought for the Confederacy from returning to Congress.

Greene, 47, filed a lawsuit earlier this month asking a judge to declare that the law that the voters are using to challenge her eligibility is itself unconstitutional and to prohibit state officials from enforcing it.

Judge Amy Totenberg, in a 73-page ruling, denied Greene’s request for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order.

Totenberg, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia by President Barack Obama, wrote that Greene had failed to meet the “burden of persuasion” in her request for injunctive relief.

Georgia law says any voter who is eligible to vote for a candidate may challenge that candidate’s qualifications by filing a written complaint within two weeks after the deadline for qualifying. The secretary of state must then notify the candidate of the challenge and request a hearing before an administrative law judge. After holding a hearing, the administrative law judge presents findings to the secretary of state, who then must determine whether the candidate is qualified.

Free Speech for People, a national election and campaign finance reform group, filed the challenge March 24 on behalf of the group of voters.

Greene said in her lawsuit that she “vigorously denies that she ‘aided and engaged in insurrection to obstruct the peaceful transfer of presidential power.”


Former car dealer gets 23 years for child rape, molestation

LONGVIEW, Wash. (AP) — The former Longview car dealership owner who was found guilty of four felonies, including child rape, in August likely will spend the rest of his life in prison.

Jay Dean Douglas was sentenced Monday to 23 years to life in prison by Cowlitz County Superior Court Judge Patricia Fassett. Now 60 years old, Douglas would be 83 if released during his first parole board hearing. The board could decide to keep him in prison for life, the Daily News reported.

Douglas was arrested in 2018, when authorities alleged Heather Annette Hughes brought a 12-year-old girl to his home and used-car dealership several times for sexual acts. Hughes’ trial is scheduled for April 26.

At Monday’s hearing, the victim, now 17, said she still endures pain and anger from her abuses. She said she has wanted to die at times and hopes the offenses stop with her.

After a five-day trial in August, jurors found Douglas guilty of child rape, two counts of child molestation and possession of child pornography.

A March jury trial also found Douglas guilty of bail jumping when he did not show up to two hearings related to his child sexual abuse charges.

Woman guilty of murder, arson in fire that killed 3

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A jury convicted a woman of three counts of first-degree murder and arson Monday for setting a fire that killed her boyfriend’s mother and two grandsons.

The Ingham County jury needed just 80 minutes to return the convictions against Abbieana Williams in the Sept. 3, 2020, fire, the Lansing State Journal reported.

She was charged in the deaths of 53-year-old Melissa Westen, 8-year-old Aston Griffin and 4-year-old Jesse Kline IV.

“And for what? Because she was jealous and revengeful because she thought her boyfriend was cheating on her,” John Dewane, Ingham County’s deputy chief assistant prosecutor, said during closing arguments in Williams’ trial.

Because she was convicted of first-degree murder, Williams will be sentenced to a life in prison without parole.

All three victims died from smoke inhalation, said Michael Markey, a medical examiner at Sparrow Hospital.

Mariah Westen, the boys’ mother, said “justice was served.”

“She will be getting what she deserves for killing my boys and my mother,” Mariah Westen said.


Woman pleads guilty to hiding baby’s death 13 years ago

JUNEAU, Wis. (AP) — A Milwaukee woman has pleaded guilty to concealing the death of her newborn baby almost 13 years ago.

The Beaver Dam Daily Citizen reported that 45-year-old Karin Luttinen pleaded guilty Monday to a felony count of concealing the death of a child in Dodge County Circuit Court in a deal with prosecutors. She faces up to a year and a half in prison when she’s sentenced Aug. 5.

According to a criminal complaint, Luttinen gave birth to the baby girl in a bath tub in April 2009. The umbilical cord was wrapped around the newborn’s neck, she said. She blacked out and woke up in a panic.

She put the baby in a trash bag and left it in the woods outside of the town of Theresa. A wood cutter found it later that month. An autopsy showed the child may have died prior to or shortly after birth.

The case languished for years. Prosecutors developed a DNA profile of the baby’s mother using a maxi pad wrapper that was in the trash bag with the baby’s body and in 2014 charged that profile as a Jane Doe to keep the statute of limitations from expiring.

Analysts finally used a genetic analysis of the profile’s family tree to key in on Luttinen. Investigators obtained a DNA sample from her in January and determined last month that she was a major source of the DNA on the maxi pad wrapper and that she was the baby’s mother.


Man gets life in prison for killing university administrator

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A man convicted of abducting, raping and killing a Virginia Commonwealth University administrator in her home was sentenced on Monday to life in prison.

In November, a jury convicted Thomas Edward Clark, 62, of three felony counts stemming from the May 2019 killing of Suzanne Fairman, 53, of Richmond.

Clark was part of a landscaping crew that had worked on Fairman’s back deck. After she complained about the quality of the work, Clark had returned to fix it a week before she was killed, authorities said.

Prosecutors said DNA evidence and phone records tied Clark to the killing.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Clark has maintained his innocence. Defense attorney Ali Amirshahi said Clark intends to appeal.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo presided over the case against Clark.


Former casino executive pleads guilty to tax fraud

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A former Indiana casino executive pleaded guilty Monday to one count of filing a false tax return in a scheme to funnel cash to a political action committee associated with the Marion County Republican Party.

John Keeler’s guilty plea came just one hour before his trial was scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. He entered his plea a week after his co-defendant, former state Sen. Brent Waltz, pleaded guilty to other federal charges for receiving about $40,000 in illegal campaign contributions for his unsuccessful 2016 congressional campaign.

Prosecutors agreed to drop five other counts against Keeler, a former top executive of Indianapolis-based Spectacle Entertainment, as part of his plea agreement, The Indianapolis Star reported. He will be required to pay restitution of $14,350.

Keeler faces up to three years in prison, but will likely receive less under the deal. His sentencing has not been scheduled yet.

Under his plea agreement, Keeler admitted to working with an out-of-state political consultant to funnel $25,000 to the Greater Indianapolis Republican Finance Committee, a political action committee associated with the Marion County Republican Party.

At the time, in 2016, the party was struggling financially, according to the plea agreement. Keeler wanted to help, but believed Indiana law prohibited casino company contributions.

Keeler also was accused of directing illegal corporate contributions through straw donors to Waltz, who was a Republican state senator for 12 years until giving up his seat in 2016 for an ultimately unsuccessful run in the GOP primary for the 9th Congressional District.

But those charges were dropped as part of Keeler’s plea deal.

Keeler and Waltz were indicted following a lengthy FBI investigation into Spectacle Entertainment that led the Indiana Gaming Commission to force the company out of its ownership of projects for new casinos in Gary and Terre Haute.

The commission also raised financial misconduct allegations against former Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff, who agreed to give up his state casino license, ending more than a decade as a heavyweight in Indiana’s gambling industry. Ratcliff has not been charged with any crime.

Ratcliff and Keeler were leaders of Centaur Gaming, which sold Indiana’s two horse track casinos in Anderson and Shelbyville to Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2018 for $1.7 billion. They led a group that then formed Spectacle Entertainment to buy the Gary casino operation.

DA asks to drop charges in missing woman case

DENVER (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday asked a judge to dismiss criminal charges against a Colorado man about to go on trial in the presumed death of his missing wife but reserved the right to bring new charges against him later.

In a court filing, District Attorney Linda Stanley said investigators need more time to find the body of Suzanne Morphew before Barry Morphew goes on trial, revealing that investigators believe her body is located in a area covered deep in snow near their former home. 

However, she also said that the judge's recent decision to exclude key prosecution witnesses from the trial was also a factor in asking for the charges to be dropped.

Barry Morphew pleaded for help finding Suzanne Morphew after she disappeared in 2020 but he was arrested and charged with murder and other crimes the following year. He has pleaded not guilty and was released on bond. His trial is set to begin April 28.