National Roundup

Occupier says he knew he would be found innocent

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A man who was charged in connection with the occupation of a national wildlife refuge says he holds no ill will against prosecutors and that he knew he would not be found guilty.

Peter Santilli tells the Oregonian/OregonLive that he knew his charge of conspiracy would not go to trial. Prosecutors filed a motion last week to dismiss the charge.

The 50-year-old is an independent broadcaster from Cincinnati, Ohio, who live-streamed the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which began Jan. 2 and lasted for 41 days. He contends he covered the protest as a journalist and stayed at the Silver Spur Motel rather than the refuge.

Eleven of 26 defendants indicted in the refuge takeover case entered guilty pleas. Seven are in trial. Seven others are set for trial in February.

Condemned killer in fatal robbery loses appeal

HOUSTON (AP) — A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal from a 35-year-old man on Texas death row for the fatal shooting of a man during a robbery of a San Antonio ice house more than 16 years ago.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has turned down arguments that Obie Weathers is mentally impaired and shouldn’t be put to death. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that mentally impaired people may not be executed.

Weathers was 19 in February 2000 when court records show he shot 63-year-old Ted Church twice in the head and once in the abdomen as Church tried to break up the robbery at the bar on San Antonio’s east side. Church was a customer. Weathers fled with about $200.

He doesn’t yet have an execution date.

Man who scaled White House fence takes deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who draped himself in the American flag and jumped over the White House fence on Thanksgiving Day last year has taken a plea deal in the case.

Joseph Caputo of Stamford, Connecticut, appeared in federal court in the District of Columbia on Monday. He agreed to plead guilty to knowingly entering a restricted building or grounds. Sentencing is set for Dec. 6.

Caputo was carrying a binder with “a rewritten Constitution” when he scaled the fence. His lawyer argued Caputo’s actions were intended to call attention to deficiencies in the Constitution and protected by the First Amendment. A judge disagreed, saying Caputo’s arguments “border on frivolous” because there’s “no First Amendment right to express one’s self in a nonpublic area like the White House.”

State Supreme Court Justice James Perry forced to retire

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Supreme Court Justice James Perry is stepping down from his post because he has reached the mandatory retirement age.

Perry sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday telling him that he would leave the court on Dec. 30. Perry was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to the state Supreme Court in 2009. He was the fourth black justice appointed to the court.

Florida law requires that justices retire once they turn 70, although they can serve out their term if their birthday falls in the last three years of their six-year term. Perry is 72.

Perry’s departure gives Scott a chance to alter the makeup of the Supreme Court, which has angered Republican legislators with some of its decisions. Scott will appoint a successor from a list given to him by a nominating commission.

Coroners face shortage amid spike in cases

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Coroner’s offices in central Ohio are struggling to fill positions as caseloads increase and more doctors seek employment in the private sector.

The number of cases Ohio coroners and medical examiners are handling has increased amid a drug-overdose crisis sweeping the state, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Besides homicides and questionable child deaths, Franklin County’s office does autopsies on about 95 percent of overdose cases, said Coroner Anahi Ortiz. Examiners sometimes rely on toxicology reports and external examinations if an overdose cause is obvious.

The office performed 1,778 autopsies in 2015, up from 1,420 in 2014. That number is expected to jump to 1,854 cases in 2016. Records show the office has four forensic pathologists and one chief deputy coroner.

The newspaper reports that offices in Ohio are facing the risk of losing national accreditation due to a stagnant pool of pathologists and increasing cases. Officials say losing accreditation could damage their credibility when testifying in court.

Too few pathologists also means that family members must wait longer for death certificates, potentially delaying insurance payouts.

“We have to decide which (cases) we are going to autopsy and which we’re not,” Ortiz said.

Dr. David Fowler, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said that when examiners start performing more than 250 cases a year per pathologist, the error rate starts to go up.

Ohio coroners and medical examiners are considering alternatives and ways to limit the cases in which they conduct a full autopsy, such as relying on CT scans rather than full autopsies in some cases.

Ortiz said county commissioners have agreed to increase the base pay for a new pathologist from $144,000 a year to $164,000. At least two of the county’s pathologists are nearing retirement, she said.
“This is a recruitment, retention issue,” Fowler said. “You have to remain competitive.”

Mayor in theft case accused of misusing funds for alcohol

HILO, Hawaii (AP) — The deputy attorney general prosecuting Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi on theft charges has accused the mayor of using his government-issued credit card to buy “exorbitant amounts of alcohol.”

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports Deputy Attorney General Kevin Takata filed court documents saying a majority of the 15 card receipts presented to jurors of Kenoi’s personal purchases were related to alcohol. He also says the purchases made on his card weren’t reimbursed until media requests seeking copies of the mayor’s card records were filed.

A grand jury indicted Kenoi in March on charges of theft, tampering with public records and making a false statement under oath relating to the alleged misuse of his card.

A judge will consider motions brought by Kenoi’s attorney to have the case dismissed on Friday.