National Roundup

Tennessee

Mother and son stole more than $1.5M from church

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. (AP) -- A mother and son have pleaded guilty in Hamblen County's largest-ever theft case.

Sixty-nine year old Barbara Whitt and 43-year-old Michael Whitt pleaded guilty in federal court in Greeneville on Friday to stealing more than $1.5 million from the First Baptist Church of Morristown.

According to the Citizen Tribune, Whitt cashed more than 1,600 checks totaling $1,514,593 over a 34-month period on the church's general-fund bank account, which she managed.

She was not an authorized signatory on the account, but she obtained signatures from individuals who were authorized to access the funds.

The two remain free on bond pending sentencing.

First Baptist Church had insurance policies that covered $1 million of the loss.

Florida

Officer fired after renouncing US citizenship

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) -- A Sarasota homicide detective has been fired after declaring himself a sovereign citizen.

Tom Laughlin of Parrish filed court documents in April renouncing his U.S. citizenship and claiming he was not subject to federal law and he no longer had to pay taxes.

The 42-year-old detective was fired last week. According to an internal affairs report, supervisors accused Laughlin of associating with a hate group advocating violence, not answering questions honestly and using department computers to search websites on sovereign citizens.

Laughlin told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he filed the documents to make a political statement but he "didn't want to be involved in any kind of extremist movement." He plans to appeal.

Mississippi

Death row inmate denied post conviction claim

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- A federal appeals court has refused to allow a Mississippi death row inmate to pursue a post conviction claim that his attorney should have done a better job at his trial.

Edwin Hart Turner had sought approval from the federal courts for a certificate of appealability on the ineffective counsel issue. The COA is similar to a post-conviction petition, in which an inmate argues he has found new evidence -- or a possible constitutional issue -- that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

The Mississippi Supreme Court denied Turner's petition in 2007. A federal judge did the same in 2010.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this past week ruled against Turner.

The Mississippi Supreme Court in 1999 upheld Turner's conviction and death sentence for the 1995 killings of two Carroll County men, Eddie Brooks and Everett Curry. Also in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Turner's appeal.

Turner, of Leflore County, and Paul Murrell Stewart, of Greenwood, were indicted for the slayings and on a single count each of armed robbery. In a plea agreement, Stewart was sentenced to two life sentences without parole and testified against Turner.

Brooks, a 37-year-old clerk at Mims Auto Truck Village on U.S. 82 Highway East, was killed on the job on Dec. 13, 1995. Shortly thereafter, Curry, 38, a prison guard, was shot to death while pumping gasoline into his car at Mims One Stop, also east of Greenwood on U.S. 82, according to the court record.

Among Turner claims were that his attorneys should have investigated his case more thoroughly, put on more witnesses and should not have gotten his case moved from Carroll County. Turner's trial was held in Forrest County on a change of venue.

The Mississippi court ruled the decision to move the trial was part of the defense strategy and any argument from Turner about a different outcome was entirely hypothetical.

The 5th Circuit panel agreed and said Turner offered nothing but speculation that more investigation by his attorneys or the questioning of more witnesses would have changed the outcome of his trial.

Indiana

State settles suit over foster care subsidies

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The state agency that oversees Indiana's foster care system has settled a lawsuit over state subsidies to foster and adoptive parents.

The Indianapolis Star reports that the settlement was announced Friday between the Indiana Department of Child Services and the Indiana Association of Residential Child Care Agencies Inc. That group of foster and residential child care agencies sued DCS last year over its plans to cut payments to the agencies.

The suit prompted a federal judge to freeze DCS' pay rates for providers at 2009 levels.

Under the agreement, DCS will begin cost-based rate settings for child-welfare service providers in January. For the remainder of 2011, DCS will impose a limited 5 percent reduction for the reimbursement of agencies serving children through foster and residential care.

Wisconsin

U.S. government settles We Energies lawsuit for $31M

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- We Energies has settled a lawsuit with the federal government that will return $31 million to the Milwaukee utility's customers.

The settlement ends more than a decade of litigation and negotiation.

We Energies filed suit after the U.S. Department of Energy failed to meet a 1998 deadline to open a national storage site for spent nuclear fuel.

That forced the utility to build its own concrete casks to store used nuclear fuel from the Point Beach reactors it owned at the time.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that We Energies initially wanted $96 million. A federal court awarded it $50 million in 2009, a ruling the Department of Energy appealed.

We Energies spokesman Roman Draba says the government eventually approached the utility to negotiate a settlement.

Tennessee

Kingsport T. rex model is subject of $8.2M suit

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) -- A model of a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on display in downtown Kingsport is the subject of an $8.2 million federal lawsuit.

The model has been on display in paleontologist Jerry Jacene's Prehistoric Exhibits Museum since March 2010.

Just last week, officials from the newly formed Kingsport Museum Association announced a multiyear purchase agreement for Jacene's models, including the Tyrannosaurus rex.

That was before they learned of the lawsuit, which claims the T. rex model was made from copyrighted castings without permission. The Kingsport Times-News reports the sale is now off.

Published: Tue, Feb 22, 2011

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