National Roundup

Illinois
Court orders new trial in police ­torture case

CHICAGO (AP) - A prison inmate serving a life sentence for murder has been granted a new trial after an appellate court determined Chicago police tortured him into implicating himself in the 1989 slayings of two men.

Fifty-three-year-old James Gibson hopes the charges will be dismissed and he'll be set free after three decades behind bars. His attorney, Joel Brodsky, says that after last week's opinion his immediate plan is to ask that Gibson be released from prison on bond.

Gibson says he was tortured by detectives under the command of Jon Burge, the former Chicago police commander who led the "midnight crew" that have been accused of torturing suspects between 1972 and 1991. Burge died last year. Over the years, the city has paid tens of millions of dollars to Burge victims.

Georgia
Jury to decide if school system banned yoga for Christianity

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) - A federal judge says a jury will decide if a Georgia school system's decision to halt a yoga program - and transfer the elementary school administrator who started it - was done to promote Christianity.

U.S. Judge William Ray refused the Cobb County School District's request for summary judgment and said Friday that the federal lawsuit filed by a former assistant principal will go to trial. Bonnie Cole, the former assistant principal at Bullard Elementary School, filed a lawsuit following her transfer from the school after parental complaints about yoga at the school.

During the 2014-2015 school year, Cole said she implemented breathing and stretching exercises based on yoga and meditation in classrooms as a way of reducing stress and encouraging relaxation. Cole said in the lawsuit that the practices were not religious, but they prompted complaints from some Christian parents.

According to the lawsuit, upset parents held a 2016 prayer rally for "Jesus to rid the school of Buddhism."

The lawsuit said the school system in 2016 halted the program and transferred Cole to another school.

The lawsuit contends the school system violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution by adopting the "religious perspective" of complaining parents who said the practices did not align with their Christian beliefs.

The school system said there was no religious motivation to the transfer. Attorneys for the school system wrote in a court filing that the disruption at the school was to a point that it made Cole "unable to effectively lead her staff and her students moving forward."

Alabama
DNA match leads to arrest in1999 slaying, rape case

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - A DNA match found through a genealogy website has led to an arrest in the killings of two teen girls nearly 20 years ago, Alabama authorities said.

Coley McCraney, 45, of Dothan, was arrested Saturday on rape and capital murder charges in the 1999 deaths of 17-year-olds Tracie Hawlett and J.B. Beasley, according to Dale County jail records.

The girls left Dothan the night of July 3, 1999, to attend a party, but never arrived. They were found the next day in the trunk of Beasley's car alongside a road in Ozark, each with a gunshot wound to the head. A different suspect was cleared after his DNA didn't match that from semen found on Beasley.

"I've been doing this job a long time, and here's my concern: social media convicts him before we've ever seen the evidence, and that's troubling to me," McCraney's lawyer, David Harrison, told The Associated Press on Monday.

"It's going to be difficult to find a jury that's not already aware of the facts," he added. "I might have to ask that it be moved to another venue to get a fair trial. A lot of emotions are flying."

Last year's arrest of "Golden State Killer" suspect Joseph DeAngelo in California was a factor in prompting the small Alabama police department to send their evidence to a firm that does DNA analysis, Ozark Police Chief Marlos Walker told ABC News .

After decades without any big breaks, California police identified DeAngelo as a suspect by using genealogy websites to identify potential relatives of the killer based on DNA collected at a crime scene. DeAngelo now faces more than two-dozen counts of murder and kidnapping in what prosecutors describe as a killing in spree in a half-dozen California counties in the 1970s and 1980s.

McCraney's lawyer says he's an outstanding member of the community, a married man with children and grandchildren. He's been a truck driver and had his own church where he preached as recently as three weeks ago, the lawyer said.

"My heart goes out to the victims' families," Harrison said. "It's a tragedy. We don't need to make it make three tragedies by convicting him."

"I can say this man been an outstanding member of the community," he added. "He's cooperating with law enforcement. I look forward to having our day in court and exonerating my client and his reputation."

North Carolina
'Staircase' ­documentary prosecutor died of natural causes

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) - An autopsy says natural causes claimed the life of a North Carolina prosecutor found dead at home last year amid attention over "The Staircase" documentary series.

Freda Black helped prosecute the 2001 killing examined by the documentary. An autopsy released Monday by the state medical examiner cited liver disease due to alcoholism as the cause of death.

Police have said Black was found dead last July and the 57-year-old's death didn't appear suspicious.

Black gave closing arguments at the 2003 trial that ended with novelist Michael Peterson convicted of murdering his wife. A judge later ordered a new trial, and Peterson entered a special plea in 2017 acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him of manslaughter.

The case received renewed attention after Netflix distributed new episodes of the "Staircase."

New Jersey
Businessman pleads not guilty in slaying of brother's family

FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) - A New Jersey businessman accused of killing his brother, his brother's wife and two children has pleaded not guilty to felony murder and other charges.

A public defender for Paul Caneiro entered the pleas Monday during a hearing in Freehold. Caneiro had previously been represented by private attorneys who maintained his innocence, but they have withdrawn from the case due to conflicts of interest.

An indictment unsealed last month charges Caneiro with murder, felony murder, aggravated arson and a weapons offense. He also faces counts of theft, misapplication of entrusted property and hindering his own apprehension.

The charges stem from the deaths of Keith Caneiro; his wife, Jennifer, and their two young children. Their bodies were found after a fire broke out at their Colts Neck home Nov. 20.

Published: Tue, Mar 19, 2019

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