Court Roundup

Pennsylvania

Man avoids death penalty in wife's killing

WEST CHESTER, Pa. (AP) -- A suburban Philadelphia man has avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to fatally stabbing his wife in the parking lot of the convenience store where she worked.

James Hvizda pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Wednesday for killing his wife, Kimberly, late on the night of March 25 outside the store in Upper Uwchlan (YEW-klin) Township, Chester County.

Investigators say Hvizda stabbed his wife multiple times and slashed her throat before turning himself in to police.

Officials say they would have pursued the death penalty at trial because the mother of four had obtained a protection from abuse order against her husband before she was killed.

Hvizda told the court he wanted to avoid the death penalty and spare his family a trial.

Indiana

Group sues over Ind.'s law on marriage presiders

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A secular humanist group claims in a federal lawsuit that Indiana's marriage law is unconstitutional because it doesn't allow people who aren't ministers or government officials to preside at marriages.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the Center for Inquiry argues the state law violates the First Amendment by limiting the marriage authority based on religion.

American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana attorney Ken Falk tells The Indianapolis Star that previous court rulings say the state can't prefer religious groups over those that aren't religious.

The Center for Inquiry has an Indianapolis branch and says it promotes science over religion but encourages values similar to what many religions teach.

The Indiana attorney general's office says it will defend the Legislature's right to determine who may perform marriages.

Mississippi

Feds want mental exam in Purple Heart fraud case

GREENVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Federal prosecutors want a judge to order a psychiatric exam for a man charged with falsely claiming to be a Purple Heart recipient to collect benefits, but the man's attorney says an exam has already been done.

An exam for Charles Welshans was first ordered in January 2011 at the request of his attorney and the plan called for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to do it. When that wasn't done, prosecutors asked this week to have him detained and taken for an evaluation.

Welshans' attorney says in court filings that the VA decided not to do the exam because VA benefits are at issue, so another doctor performed it and the results are forthcoming.

Welshans is charged in federal court in Greenville with defrauding the government of $24,844.

North Dakota

Woman convicted in husband-ramming incident

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- A Bismarck woman accused of crashing her vehicle into a house while chasing her husband has been found guilty of felony reckless endangerment.

The Bismarck Tribune reports a jury deliberated about two hours Wednesday before convicting Ella Bowen-Davis. She could face up to five years in prison.

Authorities say Bowen-Davis had three children in the back seat of her Suburban when she chased her husband in March 2011 and eventually crashed into a house. She said in court last year that her husband had taken their rent money. No one was hurt in the incident.

Bowen-Davis and her husband are scheduled for trial in August on insurance fraud charges related to the crash. Bowen-Davis also faces a trial next week for alleged fraudulent insurance claims on renter's insurance policies.

North Carolina

Man gets 7 years for natural gas fraud

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- A former energy trader from Fayetteville has been sentenced to seven years in prison for bank fraud and wire fraud.

The Fayetteville Observer reported that 51-year-old Paul Lawing also was ordered to pay $27 million in restitution.

The newspaper reported Lawing's natural gas brokerage collapsed in 2005, leaving $70 million in debt.

He had pleaded guilty in November and was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Greenville.

Lawing apologized to his former wife and his friends, associates and former employees at National Gas Distributors.

U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard also ordered Lawing to serve five years of supervised release when he gets out of prison.

Lawing had founded the company in 2001 to distribute natural gas to institutional customers such as factories and government agencies.

Oregon

Wash. soldier's estate sues for $2M

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) -- A Puyallup, Wash., soldier's estate has sued the federal government, contending the 32-year-old Afghan war veteran should not have been given a three-day pass by the Roseburg, Ore., Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Jeffrey Jared Waggoner died in Roseburg in 2008.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court contends that Waggoner's score on an assessment of psychological, social and occupational fitness indicated he needed inpatient care. The estate seeks $2 million.

The Oregonian reports that the suit contends Waggoner had been prescribed 19 different drugs and suffered from ailments including post-traumatic stress and opioid addiction.

The suit alleges the soldier checked into a motel, went out to get food, then returned and slumped unconscious in the doorway of his room. His death was blamed on an overdose of methadone and Oxycodone and asphyxiation, the latter apparently the result of the way he had fallen.

The newspaper says two previous attempts by the estate to sue were rejected by the government.

Published: Fri, May 11, 2012

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