National Roundup

State urges judge to toss inmate medical care case

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (AP) - Government attorneys urged a judge on Friday to throw out a lawsuit in which former death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal claims prison officials have shown "deliberate indifference" to his health.

Abu-Jamal's lawsuit was filed before he exhausted an administrative appeals process as required under federal law, argued Laura Neal, a lawyer for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

"It's discouraging inmates from running into court, which Mr. Abu-Jamal did," she said of the process.

U.S. District Judge Robert Mariani noted that Abu-Jamal filed an amended complaint last month, after the corrections department rejected his medical appeals.

Abu-Jamal, 61, is a former Black Panther and radio journalist serving life in prison for the murder of a white Philadelphia police officer more than 30 years ago. He said in the lawsuit that prison officials and doctors have systematically denied him proper medical care for maladies ranging from hepatitis C to high blood sugar.

He wants Mariani to order his jailers to allow him to be seen by a doctor of his choosing and to provide adequate treatment. He also is demanding monetary damages.

Abu-Jamal is scheduled to testify by video hookup from the state prison in Frackville.

After spending time in the hospital earlier this year, Abu-Jamal's health has apparently improved. Suzanne Ross, a longtime supporter, wrote on the "Free Mumia" website that she visited him in late November and "he looked so healthy and radiant, so much like he used to, and he sounded so good," though she added he "still itches and still experiences pain."

Abu-Jamal's lawsuit said he was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a chronic blood-borne infection that gradually destroys the liver, in 2012. Eventually, he got an itchy rash over 70 percent of his body that his lawyers say is a complication of the disease. Prison officials have not adequately treated either his hepatitis or the rash, the suit said.

Prison doctors also failed to address a sudden spike in Abu-Jamal's blood sugar level in early March, and, weeks later, he lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital in diabetic shock, he claims.

The suit asserts the prison is violating the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment by withholding appropriate medical care.

A federal magistrate ruled in September that Abu-Jamal had failed to show "immediate irreparable harm" and recommended that Mariani rule against him.

Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of Officer Daniel Faulkner. His conviction has been upheld through years of appeals, but a federal court threw out his death sentence in 2008, citing flawed jury instructions. He has gained international support for his claim that he's the victim of a racist justice system.

Parishioners to ask high court to hear church case

BOSTON (AP) - Parishioners who have occupied a Roman Catholic church since it was closed 11 years ago will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to settle their dispute with the Boston archdiocese.

St. Frances X. Cabrini parishioners plan to ask the high court to review a ruling by a Massachusetts court that found they are trespassing at the Scituate (SIH'-choo-iht) church. The state's highest court declined to hear the case but parishioners are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will review it.

The parishioners will ask a state judge on Monday to put the case on hold while they petition the high court.

The church was closed in 2004 as part of a reorganization following the clergy sex-abuse scandal.

A spokesman for the archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Judge frees men convicted in Fairbanks 4 case

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) - A judge in Alaska approved terms of a settlement that throws out the longstanding convictions of four indigenous men in the 1997 beating death of a teenager in Fairbanks.

The so-called Fairbanks Four accepted the deal during an unscheduled hearing in Fairbanks, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. One man has already been released on parole. The agreement calls for the release of the other three, and it bars all four from suing government entities.

Judge Paul Lyle ordered the men be taken to the Fairbanks Correctional center to be immediately released. About 150 supporters had crowded the courthouse for the hearing, and many cheered inside the small courtroom cheers as Lyle exited for his chambers.

The three Alaska Native men and an American Indian - George Frese, Kevin Pease, Eugene Vent and Marvin Roberts - maintained their innocence in the death of 15-year-old John Hartman. Alaska Native leaders have long advocated for their release, saying the convictions were racially motivated and emblematic of how Alaska Natives have been treated by the justice system. Roberts was the only man on parole.

The state continued to vigorously defend the convictions through a civil trial, which ended in early November. But it made a surprise offer last week to free the three men who remained behind bars.

Attorney General Craig Richards' office said later Thursday that the outcome wasn't an exoneration.

"In this settlement, the four defendants agreed they were properly and validly investigated, prosecuted and convicted," the office said in a news release. "This compromise reflects the Attorney General's recognition that if the defendants were retried today it is not clear under the current state of the evidence that they would be convicted."

In the same statement, Richards acknowledged that "some individuals will be understandably upset by this decision." But he said that he believes the "resolution of this matter at this time is in the state's best interest."

Hartman's brother, Chris Kelly, testified by phone at the hearing, voicing his objections to the deal. After the hearing, Kelly told The Associated Press he was flabbergasted at the outcome, saying only guilty people would have accepted such an agreement. If the men are truly innocent, he doesn't see how the state could treat them that way, and if the men are guilty, the state made a deal with murderers, Kelly said.

The deal was reached as the judge considered a verdict in the separate civil action from the men seeking to have their convictions overturned.

"The wounds of this case will eventually heal, but it will take time," Kawasaki said.

The case against the four was always fraught with complexities. Some of the men confessed to the murder and then recanted, saying they were drunk. Other witnesses had said they were coached by police.

The Alaska Innocence Project advocated for the men, and sought post-conviction relief in civil court. The group's case was based on the recollections of a Fairbanks man now in prison for murder in California.

Published: Mon, Dec 21, 2015