National Roundup

Alabama

Judge blocks testimony by father of drowned bride

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- A judge is blocking testimony from the father of an Alabama woman who drowned during her honeymoon in Australia in 2003.

Prosecutors wanted Tommy Thomas to take the stand Thursday as a witness against 34-year-old Gabe Watson, who is charged with murder in his wife's death. Prosecutors hoped Thomas would tell jurors about statements Watson allegedly made about wanting to increase life insurance for his wife, Tina Thomas Watson.

But Judge Tommy Nail ruled that Thomas' testimony was irrelevant hearsay.

The testimony was important to the state because prosecutors claim Watson killed his wife in hopes he could collect on her life insurance. The defense says her death was an accident.

New York

Judge orders anonymous jury for NY bomb plot trial

NEW YORK (AP) -- A federal judge has ordered an anonymous jury for the upcoming trial of a New York City man accused of plotting to attack the city's subway system with homemade bombs.

The judge hasn't yet decided whether the jurors should be escorted daily from their homes to the court.

The Daily News says prosecutors have requested the extra security, citing the "extraordinarily compelling facts" surrounding the case.

Adis Medunjanin is accused of plotting with two accomplices to bomb subway lines during rush hour near the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He's also accused of trying to recruit a fourth person to travel to Pakistan "to wage violent jihad."

Authorities have called it one of the most serious terrorism threats since 9/11.

Medunjanin has pleaded not guilty.

California

Extradition papers filed for arsonist suspect mom

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal prosecutors have filed extradition papers for the German mother of a suspected Los Angeles serial arsonist.

U.S. attorney's office spokesman Thom Mrozek says Dorothee Burkhart faces 17 fraud charges in Germany over allegations she bilked apartment renters out of their security deposits.

Mrozek says the original provisional arrest warrant filed last year listed 19 counts, meaning German officials decided not to pursue two charges against her.

Burkhart is scheduled to appear in court for an extradition hearing on May 9.

Her son, Harry Burkhart, is charged with 100 arson-related counts involving 49 fires in Hollywood, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley over the New Year's weekend. If convicted, he faces more than 80 years in state prison.

New York

NYC judge: Maid deserves $1.5M for unpaid work

NEW YORK (AP) -- A magistrate judge in New York City has recommended that a young Indian woman be awarded nearly $1.5 million for being forced to work without pay for a diplomat from her country.

The judge said Wednesday that Neena Malhotra (MAHL-hot-rah), and her husband, Jogesh Malhotra induced Shanti Gurung to work without pay by preventing her from leaving the apartment.

The judge said the couple also threatened to beat and rape her if she tried to flee.

Gurung says she was "essentially kidnapped" from India in 2006 at age 17 and was ordered to give daily massages and perform other chores.

The New York Post says the recommendation is subject to approval by the judge overseeing the case.

The Malhotras returned to India before the lawsuit was filed.

California

Feds crack down on rhino horn smuggling ring

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Federal wildlife investigators have broken up an international smuggling ring that trafficked in sawed-off rhinoceros horns for buyers in Vietnam and China who believe they cure cancer, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

More than 150 federal agents led raids into homes and businesses in several states over the weekend, according to the Times Three of the alleged traffickers caught in Southern California were 49-year-old Jimmy Kha, his 41-year-old girlfriend Mai Nguyen and Kha's 26-year-old son Felix. Each faces four counts of rhino horn trafficking in violation of federal laws protecting rare and endangered species.

"By taking out this ring of rhino horn traffickers, we have shut down a major source of black market horn and dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling both in the U.S. and globally," U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told the Times.

More than $1 million in cash, $1 million in gold bars, diamonds and Rolex watches, along with 20 rhino horns, were seized in the raids.

Most of the horns end up in Vietnam, or sometimes China, where there's a misconception that they can cure cancer, said Crawford Allan, North American director of TRAFFIC, a World Wildlife Fund program that monitors wildlife trade.

The wildlife service did not immediately respond to an email request for comment sent late Wednesday by The Associated Press.

The arrests and seizures resulted from an 18-month investigation, said Edward Grace, deputy chief of law enforcement for the wildlife service.

The undercover operation was forced into the open when accused trafficker Wade Steffen of Hico, Texas, and his wife and mother were found with $337,000 in their luggage at a Long Beach airport, authorities said.

During their investigation, wildlife officials said they intercepted at least 18 shipments of rhino horns from the Steffen family and the owner of a Missouri auction house that trades in live and stuffed exotic animals, according to court records. Steffen was jailed in Texas; his wife and mother weren't arrested.

Pennsylvania

Man in tattoo-for-sex case faces more charges

BRISTOL, Pa. (AP) -- A Philadelphia-area man already charged with trading a tattoo for sex with an underage girl and sexually assaulting more than a dozen children is now facing additional charges.

Thirty-five-year-old Walter Meyerle was arraigned Wednesday on charges related to the alleged sexual assaults of a 12-year-old girl starting in 2000.

Meyerle was charged last year with sexual assaults on 14 children and 2 adults over a 13-year span.

The Bucks County Courier Times reports prosecutors have asked the court to combine Meyerle's sex cases with an alleged prison break attempt.

Defense attorney Kevin Wray tells The Associated Press he has questions about statements made to police and believes investigators failed to attempt to gather necessary physical evidence. Wray says his client steadfastly denies wrongdoing.

Published: Fri, Feb 24, 2012

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