National Roundup

Man accused of killing family hires attorneys

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) - A man charged with killing a California family of four who mysteriously disappeared from their home will no longer represent himself in court.

U-T San Diego reports Wednesday that Charles "Chase" Merritt has hired a team of defense attorneys.

A preliminary hearing in the case on Tuesday was postponed until Friday in part because Merritt said he might hire a lawyer.

The hearing is to determine whether there is enough evidence for the 58-year-old Merritt to stand trial in the killings of 40-year-old Joseph McStay, 43-year-old Summer McStay and their two young sons. The family disappeared in 2010 and their remains were found in the desert in 2013.

One of the attorneys, Jimmy Mettias, says the team is unlikely to be ready in time for Friday's hearing.

U.S. State Dept. employee faces cyberstalking, hacking charges

ATLANTA (AP) - Authorities say a U.S. State Department employee sent threatening emails to college-aged women in the U.S. from his computer at the U.S. Embassy in London.

A federal complaint unsealed this week in Atlanta states that Michael C. Ford accessed computer accounts of young women to obtain sexually explicit images of them. Authorities say in one case he posed as a Google employee to obtain a password.

Prosecutors say Ford then threatened to post the images online unless the women complied with his demands, such as requests that they shoot videos of other women undressing.

Ford is facing charges of cyberstalking and computer hacking. Authorities detained him last week at Atlanta's airport as he prepared to board a flight back to London.

Two lawyers representing Ford didn't immediately return messages Thursday.

Justices make it easier to sue over 401(k) plans

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday in favor of participants in employee retirement plans who object to companies' investment decisions that eat into retirement savings.

The justices revived claims by current and former employees of energy company Edison International. The employees argued that the company chose mutual funds with excessive fees.

Edison offers employees roughly 40 mutual funds to choose from in deciding how to invest. The case involved a few higher-cost funds open to the general public instead of identical investments with lower costs that are open only to institutional investors. The Edison employees contend that the company did not act in their best interests by choosing the higher-cost funds.

Even a modest jump in fees can have a significant effect on earnings. Higher fees of just 1 percent a year would erase $70,000 from an average worker's account over a four-decade career compared with lower-cost options, according to a study last year by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

A federal appeals court dismissed the Edison employees' claims under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, known as ERISA. The appeals court said the employees' lawsuit was filed too late to contest the original choice of funds and that executives who make those decisions only have to reconsider them if circumstances change dramatically.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate decision in an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer. People in charge of investment options have an ongoing responsibility to monitor the situation, Breyer said. "The continuing duty to review investments includes a duty to remove imprudent investments," Breyer said.

The Supreme Court's consideration of the case came amid heightened scrutiny of the management of Americans' retirement investments. The 401(k) accounts, in particular, have increasingly supplanted traditional pension plans. Fifty-three million people held about $4.5 trillion in 401(k) accounts as of Sept. 30, according to the Investment Company Institute, an industry group.

The case is Tibble v. Edison International, 13-550.

Woman who said home was drug temple convicted

YORK, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska woman who testified that her home was a temple for religious use of marijuana has been convicted of four drug charges.

Online court records say 53-year-old Brenda Hines, of York, was found guilty Wednesday of three similar charges of possession for sale and one of maintaining a place for drug trafficking. Hines was acquitted on one charge: possessing drug money. She's scheduled to be sentenced on July 13.

Witnesses testified that Hines and her ex-husband, Richard McLellan, shared a house in York and that Hines had "disciples" who went there to buy and use drugs.

Hines said her Temple of Zion reflected her religious beliefs and that God provided the marijuana she sold or gave to temple members, according to the York News-Times.

Hines, the only defense witness, acknowledged that she wouldn't say who actually supplied the pot because she knew her drug activities were illegal.

Prosecutor Candace Dick asked Hines whether she sold marijuana to support her own habit, and Hines replied: "No, I partake in the sacrament, but I buy it."

"Do you rely on the money from your residents to support your temple?" Dick asked.

"Yes, just like any church does," Hines said.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Nancy Waldron said the Temple of Zion was a place of religious worship. "Just as the Native Americans used peyote, the Zionists believe in using marijuana in their worship," Waldron said.

But Dick said the law limits what people can and cannot do.

"We cannot interpret the Bible in our own way to justify breaking the law," Dick said.

Man sentenced for selling golden eagle feathers

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - A man has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for trying to arrange the illegal sale of golden eagle feathers.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reports 25-year-old Benjamin Blue Arquette was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Yakima on Monday. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to one count of commercializing in eagles, a violation of the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Arquette's plea agreement acknowledged that he had sold two tail feather sets for $1,200 to an undercover officer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Arquette said he acquired the eagles in March 2013 while hunting.

Tribal members such as Arquette can possess eagle feathers, but they are prohibited from selling them under federal law.

Published: Fri, May 22, 2015