National Roundup

Mississippi
Chief justice: Time for another to lead court

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Outgoing Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. says he’s stepping down Jan. 31 because it’s time for someone else to take on the role.

He says he’s still considering a run for governor, but leaning against it.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Waller counted among his successes a pay raise for judges, an expansion of drug courts, and a growing electronic record system. The court also decreed criminal court rules that have helped defendants see judges more quickly, and get access to bail and public defenders.

Waller’s court has at times questioned problems with forensic evidence, but passed when asked to rule on the legality of Mississippi’s cap on noneconomic lawsuit damages.

Waller says his biggest regret is not getting a statewide system of county courts.

Virginia
Muslim nonprofit wants cementery  ordinance waived

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — A Muslim nonprofit is asking a Virginia county to waive an ordinance that essentially blocks a proposed cemetery and has led to a federal investigation into religious discrimination.

Citing the variance request filed Dec. 21, The Free Lance-Star reports that the Stafford County Board of Supervisors approved changes to the county’s cemetery ordinance in 2016, a year after the All Muslim Association of America purchased a 29-acre (12-hectare) plot. The ordinance was adopted after neighbors raised concerns about well contamination, and the regulations are stricter than state code.

In September, the Board of Supervisors voted to maintain the ordinance. The group could appeal to the circuit court if the request is denied.

The Department of Justice launched an investigation in April into county zoning law’s treatment of religious uses.

Ohio
High court upholds death sentence in mother’s killing

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of a northeast Ohio man convicted of murder in the 2013 beating death of his mother.

The high court on Wednesday upheld a lower court’s decision on James Tench’s murder charge, finding the evidence of his guilt is overwhelming. Justices did dismiss an aggravated robbery conviction in the case.

The then-30-year-old Brunswick man was convicted five years ago of aggravated murder and kidnapping in the death of his mother, 55-year-old Mary Tench.

Prosecutors say he fatally beat his mother after she confronted him about using her credit card, including forging advance checks.

Mary Tench was found dead inside her car. The county coroner said she died from several blunt trauma injuries that fractured her skull.

Utah
Man charged in sex assault at fire camp agrees to plea deal

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An Idaho inmate accused of sexually assaulting a woman while he was working at a wildfire base camp in Utah has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery.

Prosecutor Kevin Daniels said Monday the woman approved the plea deal so she could avoid having to testify in the case.

The defendant, 28-year-old Ruben Hernandez, was charged with felony rape after he was accused of assaulting a fellow worker on Aug. 29.

He was part of a program in which low-level offenders nearing parole are released to cook and clean at wildfire base camps. Most states in the U.S. West have similar programs.

Hernandez could face up to a year in jail and restitution when he is sentenced. Defense attorney Richard Gale says he believes the plea deal is fair.

Wisconsin
Court upholds conviction in case of snake-in-a-box

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A state appeals court says a man who sent his ex-girlfriend threatening messages as well as a live python was properly convicted.

Eric Burrows of Elkhart Lake was convicted in January of stalking, unlawful use of a telephone and defamation.

Prosecutors accused him of sending his ex-girlfriend multiple messages asking her to get back together with him as well as accusing her of lying and cheating on him. He sent a box to her apartment complex in August 2016 containing a live ball python with a note that read “Surprise you lying (expletive).”

Burrows argued on appeal authorities lacked probable cause to arrest him. The 2nd District Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling Wednesday that the evidence more than supported an arrest.

New York
DA won’t charge men who fought NYPD officer, angering union

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City police union is upset that prosecutors aren’t bringing criminal charges against five homeless men seen on video battling a police officer on a subway platform.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office blames police, saying the men “were not arrested for attacking an officer” in Sunday night’s incident at the East Broadway station.

Police cited the men only for sleeping on the station floor. The DA stopped prosecuting such low-level violations in 2016.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch says the DA’s job “is to prosecute crimes, not to act like a social advocate.”

A video viewed more than 4 million times on social media shows Officer Syed Ali using a baton and kicking at the men as they approach one at a time. One fell onto the tracks.

Connecticut
Appeals court sets aside man’s death penalty

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — A federal appeals court has set aside the death sentence given to a Connecticut man convicted of using a baseball bat to fatally beat two people who had been wrapped in duct tape.

The Connecticut Post reports that a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of Azibo Aquart, of Bridgeport, but vacated the death penalty after finding prosecutorial misconduct during the cross-examination of now-retired FBI agent.

The ruling orders a U.S. District Court judge in New Haven to conduct a new sentencing hearing on the death penalty. No date has been scheduled.

The 37-year-old Aquart was convicted in 2011 of killing two of the three people who were beaten to death with a bat. Prosecutors say the beatings were sparked by a drug dispute.

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