National Roundup

Military appeals court to hear HIV appeal by airman

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - The nation's highest military court has agreed to review the evidence used to convict a Kansas airman of aggravated assault for exposing multiple sex partners to HIV at swinger parties in Wichita, an appeal the defense contends could potentially remap HIV testing and prosecution in the U.S. military.

The attorney for David Gutierrez said Monday that the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is expected to hear arguments sometime later this year.

The court will also consider whether Gutierrez's due process rights were violated because of how long the appeal has taken.

Gutierrez was a sergeant at McConnell Air Force Base when he was sentenced in 2011 to eight years in prison and stripped of his rank for aggravated assault. He was also found guilty of violating his commander's order to notify partners about his HIV status and use condoms. The military judge also convicted Gutierrez of indecent acts for having sex in front of others and adultery.

Prosecutors at his trial had argued Gutierrez played Russian roulette with his sexual partners' lives. Several people who participated in swinger and partner-swapping events with Gutierrez and his wife testified that they never would have had sex with him had he told them he was HIV-positive.

Defense attorney Kevin McDermott said the military's case was based on old attitudes about AIDS and the virus that causes it "and how infectious it was and how much of a death sentence it was at that particular time." The virus isn't as easily transmitted through heterosexual sex as once thought, he said, and people can now live a long time with it.

"Really what this case is hoping to do is to get the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and every other military panel up to speed with what is going on with HIV today and to perhaps change those attitudes and mores," McDermott said.

Briefs Headline:<t-1f$>Trial date set for ex-BP executive in oil disaster

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A trial is expected to begin the week of March 9 for a former BP executive charged with obstructing a congressional investigation into the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The tentative trial date is part of an order U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt issued Monday after a status conference in the case of David Rainey.

Prosecutors allege that Rainey - during a May 4, 2010, congressional briefing - failed to disclose information about the estimated rate that oil was spewing from BP's blown-out well after a rig explosion.

They also claim Rainey responded to a letter from a subcommittee chairman with false and misleading information.

Rainey has pleaded not guilty.

Death penalty decision on LAX gunman due in fall

Briefs Headline:<t-1f$>Death penalty ruling on LAX g­unman in fall

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Federal prosecutors expect to decide by mid-November whether they will seek to execute the man charged in a deadly shooting rampage at Los Angeles International Airport.

The case of Paul Ciancia has been forwarded to the attorney general in Washington to determine if they will seek the death penalty in the murder of a Transportation Security Administration officer and the wounding of three other people, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanna Curtis said Monday.

Prosecutors did not reveal what recommendation was made and declined to discuss the case outside of court.

Ciancia, 24, who has pleaded not guilty to murder of a federal officer and 10 other charges in the Nov. 1 rampage that shutdown the airport for much of the day and crippled air travel.

Ciancia, shackled and wearing a white jail suit and green windbreaker when he entered court didn't speak during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court.

Before a final decision is made by the U.S. Department of Justice, public defenders will go to Washington to present why Ciancia shouldn't face the death penalty. Chief Deputy Federal Defender Hilary Potashner said she may not be prepared to do that on the government's timeline because the defense is still receiving evidence.

So far, 10,000 pieces of evidence and 150 DVDs of material have been disclosed to the defense, Curtis said. Investigators are still looking into Ciancia's background and they have visited his hometown of Pennsville, New Jersey, and interviewed high school classmates.

Judge Philip Gutierrez said he wants to hold the trial next year.

"I'm not waiting," he said.

Potashner, however, warned that the seriousness of the charges and the volume of evidence in the complex case could delay the trial.

The next hearing was scheduled for Dec. 8.

Court resurrects death-row inmate's lawsuit

PHOENIX (AP) - An appeals court has resurrected a lawsuit by an Arizona death-row inmate who alleged a prison officer violated his constitutional rights by reading a letter he wrote to his lawyer.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday in prisoner Scott D. Nordstrom's appeal that the Constitution doesn't let prison officers read outgoing letters between inmates and their lawyers.

The ruling revives Nordstrom's legal claims and sends his lawsuit back to a lower court, but it makes no changes to his convictions or death sentence.

Nordstrom, 46, was convicted of killing six people in two robberies in 1996 in Tucson. Two people were killed at a smoke shop in one robbery, while four others were killed during a holdup 14 days later at a social club. Nordstrom was sentenced to death. One of his accomplices was executed last year.

Nordstrom alleged a jail officer read his two-page letter in May 2011, refused his requests to stop viewing it and claimed he had the power to search mail for contraband and scan the contents to ensure they concerned legal matters. The prisoner claimed the experience forced him to stop relaying sensitive information about his case to his lawyer.

The appeals court ruled prison officials can inspect inmates' outgoing mail in their presence to ensure there are no escape plans, maps of prison yards and other suspicion features. But the court said the Constitution doesn't let prison officers read outgoing letters between inmates and their lawyers.

One of the three appellate judges wrote a dissent that said, in part, that prison officials aren't prevented from reading legal letters with an eye toward discovering illegal activity.