National Roundup

North Carolina: Online travel groups sue state over sales tax changes
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Six online travel companies have sued the state of North Carolina, saying recent changes to the sales tax law are unconstitutional.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports the groups object to a new provision requiring fees paid to third-party companies to be included in the taxable receipts of hotel operators.

The companies say that amounts to discrimination, since it’s an additional cost for online services that don’t apply to similar transactions conducted offline.

The lawsuit was filed in Raleigh by Orbitz, Trip Network Inc., Travelocity.com, Travelscape, Hotels.com and Hotwire.

Attorney general spokeswoman Noelle Talley says lawyers for the state are reviewing the lawsuit.

California: SF merchant pleads not guilty in slayings
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A San Francisco merchant accused of killing two employees at a rival store in the city’s famous Fisherman’s Wharf has pleaded not guilty to two counts of murder.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that 56-year-old Hong Ri Wu entered the plea on Tuesday.

Police say Wu shot and killed Qiong Han Chu and Feng Ping Ou, both 30, on Jan. 30 inside their souvenir shop at Fisherman’s Wharf. According to investigators, he resented the competition from their shop.

About 15 members of the victims’ families were in attendance for Wu’s court appearance. His arraignment had been delayed because he was on a psychiatric hold at San Francisco General Hospital.

His attorney, Kleigh Hathaway, says he is still a risk to himself and is under observation at the county jail.

Ohio: Jurors want to pay man they quickly acquitted
CLEVELAND (AP) — At least three jurors in Cleveland say the evidence was so thin against a man jailed for weeks in an assault case that they want to give him their juror pay.

The jury quickly acquitted 19-year-old Demrick McCloud on Friday. He’d been charged with leading other teens to beat a high school student and threaten him with a gun on Oct. 13. McCloud was arrested that day and held in jail until the trial.

The three jurors tell The Plain Dealer newspaper there was a “sheer lack of evidence,” so they’ll each give McCloud the $100 they were paid for jury service if he earns a high school equivalency degree.

A prosecutor’s spokesman maintains in a statement that the victim was steadfast in identifying McCloud as an attacker.

Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh settles abortion ‘speech zones’ lawsuit
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The city of Pittsburgh has settled a lawsuit filed by an abortion protester who claimed a 2005 city ordinance illegally restricted leafleting and free speech by protesters.

Protester Mary K. Brown sued claiming the city’s combination of a “buffer zone,” which kept protesters at least 15 feet from clinic entrances, and a “bubble zone,” which kept protesters at least 8 feet from abortion clients, was illegal. A federal appeals court agreed in 2009 and the city has since decided to enforce only the buffer zone around clinic entrances and has been training its police how to enforce that limit.

Brown and the Alliance Defense Fund had argued that the combination of buffer and bubble zones kept protesters too far away from clients to hand them anti-abortion leaflets and to conduct conversations about abortion without having to shout.

Texas: Two church arsonists get another life term
ATHENS, Texas (AP) — Two men already sentenced to life in prison over five church fires in East Texas have pleaded guilty to more blazes.

A judge in Athens sentenced 21-year-old Jason Robert Bourque and 23-year-old Daniel George McAllister to additional life terms, to be served concurrently.

Bourque on Jan. 11 was indicted on three arsons counts, while McAllister was charged with two arson counts. Both pleaded guilty Tuesday in a plea agreement that resolved three church fires last year in Henderson County.

The men last month were sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty related to five church fires in Smith County. They’re expected in court Friday over two church fires in Van Zandt County.

Nobody was hurt in the 10 church fires in January and February of 2010.

North Dakota: Man to plead guilty in Belcourt painkiller case
MINOT, N.D. (AP) — A former pharmacy worker plans to plead guilty to stealing painkillers from a North Dakota American Indian hospital that was the basis of a congressional investigation by former Sen. Byron Dorgan.

Timothy Davis Jr. is charged in federal court with conspiracy to possess and distribute hydrocodone, and acquisition of a controlled substance by misrepresentation.

Court documents accuse Davis of manipulating the inventory while he worked as a pharmacy technician with the Quentin N. Burdick Memorial Hospital in Belcourt. Authorities say 48,710 hydrocodone pills were reported missing between May 2009 and June 2010.

Dorgan’s report revealed “chronic mismanagement and a lack of employee accountability” at the hospital.

Candace Keplin, John Allery and Jordan Delong have been charged in the case. The four defendants are accused of selling the pills for profit.

Vermont: Suspect in killing of Vt. girl says too many know
BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The Randolph man facing a federal death penalty trial on charges of kidnapping and killing his 12-year-old niece says too many people in Vermont know of the case and so the trial should be held elsewhere.

Court papers filed on behalf of 44-year-old Michael Jacques cite a poll done in Burlington last October that found 81 percent of Vermonters said “yes” when asked if they knew about the case.

The Burlington Free Press says the new court papers are a supplemental memorandum to a change-of-venue motion filed last year.

Defense attorneys want Jacques’ trial held in Albany, N.Y. Prosecutors oppose the change.

The trial is scheduled to begin in September.

Police say Jacques drugged, sexually assaulted and then killed his niece Brooke Bennett on June 25, 2008.

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