National Roundup

Florida: Mom accused of killing kids held without bail
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — The Florida woman accused of killing her teenage children held a tissue and cried as she made her first court appearance.

Judge Walter Heinrich ordered 50-year-old Julie Powers Schenecker held without bail during the Monday hearing in Tampa. Two female deputies held Schenecker by the arms during the video proceeding. Her court-appointed attorney did not make a statement.

Schenecker is accused of shooting her 13-year-old son Beau twice in the head “for talking back” Thursday evening, then shooting her 16-year-old daughter Calyx in the face while she was studying at a computer.

Officers found Schenecker covered in blood Friday morning.

Her husband, Parker Schenecker, is an Army officer. He was working in the Middle East when the shootings happened.

Illinois: Man imprisoned in sporting goods store burglary
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) — A 19-year-old southwestern Illinois man has been ordered to spend more than seven years in federal prison for weapons violations tied to the theft of 15 firearms from a sporting goods store.

David Hoffarth of Belleville was sentenced after pleading guilty last week in federal court in East St. Louis to stealing firearms from a federally licensed dealer and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was convicted of burglary in St. Clair County in 2009.

Authorities say Hoffarth broke in to Curt Smith Sporting Goods in Belleville in March of last year and took 15 firearms. Police responding to the business’ burglar alarm saw Hoffarth leaving the store and arrested him.

Hoffarth also was sentenced to three years of post-prison supervised release.

Illinois: Sex offender pleads guilty to child-porn count
EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) — A convicted sex offender in southwestern Illinois faces up to 20 years in prison and lifetime supervised probation now that he pleaded guilty to federal charges that he possessed child pornography.

Twenty-nine-year-old Gary Shields of Edwardsville entered the plea last week in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis. He is to be sentenced in April.

Authorities say Shields was living in his truck found parked on a community college’s lot in Madison County when officers last April found pictures and video depicting scenes of child pornography. They also found writings by Shields saying child pornography and sex between adults and children should be accepted in society.

He previously had been convicted in Madison County in 2007 of possessing child pornography.

Georgia: Judge halts death penalty trial in case of killed ex
JESUP, Ga. (AP) — A judge has halted the death penalty trial of a Jesup man accused of killing his former wife and her parents.

Authorities say 40-year-old James Ralph “J.R.” Spell is accused of killing 24-year-old Amanda Harrison Spell and her parents, 49-year-old Jeaney Mason Harrison and 54-year-old Gary Aldine Harrison.

Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett stopped jury selection and ordered the trial moved elsewhere because too many prospective jurors know about the case.

Scarlett said the trial should be moved because about 30 percent of the 300 Wayne County residents in the jury pool were related to either the Harrisons or Spell, or already had formed an opinion after hearing about the triple slaying.

Brunswick is among possible new sites for the trial.

Ohio: New testimony expected in tub drowning case
LEBANON, Ohio (AP) — The third trial for an Ohio man charged in his wife’s bathtub drowning continues this week as court observers wait to find out when jurors will hear from a new witness whose identity was kept secret for months.

Ryan Widmer is accused of drowning 24-year-old Sarah Widmer at their former Hamilton Township home north of Cincinnati in 2008.

Prosecutors have revealed their mystery witness is Jennifer Crew, the former manager of a gentleman’s club in Iowa. The Cincinnati Enquirer says prosecutors allege Crew and Widmer exchanged e-mail and text messages and phone calls, including one in which Crew says Widmer confessed to killing his wife.

The defense says the call didn’t happen.

The murder conviction in Widmer’s first trial was thrown out because of juror misconduct. A second jury deadlocked.

Texas: Super Bowl prep eases jury duty in city of Fort Worth
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Super Bowl is the excuse why some potential jurors aren’t needed in Fort Worth this week.

Tarrant County court officials have delayed some trials, citing the crush of fans expected leading up to Sunday’s game in nearby Arlington between the Steelers and the Packers.

Judge George Gallagher says part of the Main Street area will be the football field for ESPN, which is broadcasting from tourist-popular Sundance Square. A downtown parking area normally used by jurors will be staging areas for the sports network.

Tarrant County typically summons about 6,000 potential jurors each week. Officials say the number usually summoned will be cut in about half.

Gallagher says jurors will still be needed for cases that could not be rescheduled.

Arkansas: Lawmakers look at hospital and attorney fees
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Increasing the cap on hospital assessment fees and limiting public funds for privately retained attorneys for the poor are on the agenda for Arkansas lawmakers.

The Senate is scheduled to consider legislation to raise the cap on net patient revenue hospitals can set aside to attract matching funds for Medicaid. Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville says his measure is aimed at helping hospitals struggling financially.

The House is scheduled to consider legislation that would prohibit state money going toward fees for privately retained attorneys for the indigent. The measure is in response to a state Supreme Court ruling requiring the state to pay the expenses of the private attorney representing Abdulhakim Muhammad, charged with the shooting death of a soldier outside a Little Rock recruiting center.

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