National Roundup

New Jersey

Trial begins for lawyer accused in murder plot

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -- The government is making its opening statement in the trial of a noted New Jersey defense attorney charged with setting up the murder of a potential witness.

Paul Bergrin is a former federal prosecutor whose clients as a defense attorney included Queen Latifah (lah-TEE'-fuh) and the rap group Naughty By Nature. He was arrested in May 2009 and accused of running a racketeering enterprise that specialized in drugs, prostitution, witness tampering and murder.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Newark centers on the 2004 murder of Deshawn "Kemo" McCray. He was supposed to testify against one of Bergrin's clients in a drug case.

Bergrin is representing himself in the trial and is expected to make an opening statement later Monday.

Georgia

Court upholds life sentence in student's slaying

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the life prison sentence for a man convicted of breaking into an apartment in Newnan and gunning down a high school senior as she did her homework.

Prosecutors said Roderick Calvin Thomas and two other men planned to rob occupants of the apartment in March 2004. Authorities say there were nine people inside when they broke in, including 17-year-old Heather Rhodes. The Starr's Mill High School student was doing her homework in the living room.

Prosecutors say Thomas shot her with a shotgun after she pleaded for her life, and she died holding the pencil she was using to do her homework.

Thomas appealed, but the high court said in its unanimous decision released Monday that his sentence of life without parole will stand.

Gerogia

Court reverses mother's convict i on, upholds son's

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Georgia Supreme Court has reversed a woman's murder conviction and upheld her son's conviction in the same case.

The decision means Tonya Miller has won the right to a new trial.

Prosecutors said Miller and her son, Jabaris Miller, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in the beating and stabbing death of 55-year-old Cheryl Miranda. Authorities found Miranda's charred body in the bed of a pickup truck near a Fulton County park in 2005.

Authorities say Tonya Miller and Miranda had been in a romantic relationship.

The Millers were convicted in February 2008 of murder, aggravated assault and concealing the death. Both appealed to the state Supreme Court.

In its unanimous decision released Monday, the high court reversed the mother's murder conviction and upheld her son's.

Georgia

Court reinstates death sentence in 1994 slayings

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Georgia Supreme Court has reinstated a man's death sentence for a pair of 1994 Hall County slayings after a lower court had thrown out the punishment.

Prosecutors said Scotty Garnell Morrow went to the home of his former girlfriend, Barbara Ann Young, after she broke off the relationship. He was accused of killing her and her friend Tonya Woods and wounding a third woman.

Authorities say Morrow shot Young in the head at point-blank range as her 5-year-old son watched from his hiding place in a bedroom.

A lower court this year threw out the sentence, finding that Morrow was denied effective legal help during the sentencing phase of his trial.

The high court disagreed, and said in its unanimous decision released Monday that Morrow's lawyers performed adequately.

New Jersey

Judge considering details in Rutgers suicide case

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) -- A New Jersey judge is expected to rule this week on whether defense lawyers should see writings by a Rutgers student who committed suicide last year after his roommate allegedly used a webcam to spy on his intimate encounter with another man.

The roommate, Dharun Ravi, a 19-year-old former Rutgers student, is charged with crimes including bias intimidation.

His lawyer, Steven Altman, wants prosecutors to hand over information including a hand-written note from Tyler Clementi and files from his computer. Altman says it could show Clementi's state of mind and be helpful to Ravi's defense.

But prosecutors say the material isn't relevant.

Judge Glenn Berman has said he would review the information in his chambers. He may rule at a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Texas

Deputy killer loses appeal at Supreme Court

HOUSTON (AP) -- An East Texas man sent to death row for a shootout that left two sheriff's deputies dead and a third wounded has lost an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The justices Monday refused to review a petition from 52-year-old Randall Wayne Mays. The former welder and oilfield worker was condemned for fatally shooting Henderson County Sheriff's Deputy Tony Ogburn in 2007. Another deputy, Paul Habelt, also was killed.

The deputies responded to a call of gunshots on Mays' property in Payne Springs, about 50 miles southeast of Dallas. After appearing to cooperate, Mays barricaded himself in his house and opened fire with a high-powered rifle.

An attorney argued Mays had poor legal help and was mentally impaired.

Mays does not have an execution date and has other appeals.

North Carolina

State high court: Original docs ne e ded to foreclose?

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's Supreme Court is deciding whether mortgage lenders can foreclose on a home without producing original documents that prove they're owed the money.

The court heard arguments Monday from attorneys representing Wells Fargo and a Duplin County homeowner whose $50,000 loan was transferred to a series of secondary financial companies.

Lawyers for Linda Dobson of Magnolia argued that Wells Fargo and its affiliates can't foreclose on her home without producing the original promissory note proving they're due the debt. Wells Fargo hasn't been able to do that and contends photocopied documents and sworn statements from employees are sufficient.

North Carolina Central University law professor Susan Hauser says the case is an example of years of loose practices that saw documents lost as mortgages were bought and sold.

Published: Tue, Oct 18, 2011

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