Archive for Saturday, July 15, 2000

Nation Briefs

July 15, 2000



City OKs payment to ex-Black Panther

City Council members voted 8-6 Friday to approve the city's $2.75 million share of a $4.5 million settlement of the civil rights lawsuit filed by former Black Panther Geronimo Pratt.

Pratt spent 25 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned in 1997. The federal government is to pay him $1.75 million as its share of the settlement approved by a federal judge April 28.

Pratt, 53, of Morgan City, La., now goes by the name Geronimo ji Jaga. He was convicted in 1972 of robbing and fatally shooting teacher Caroline Olsen on a Santa Monica tennis court in 1968. Pratt had maintained he was framed by a government informant because of his Black Panther activities.

Pratt's wrongful conviction lawsuit claimed authorities knew he was at a Black Panther meeting in Oakland at the time of the killing because the FBI had him under surveillance.


Caviar poaching on the increase

Wildlife officials fear lucrative prices for American caviar may be enticing poachers to illegally harvest and sell eggs from the protected paddlefish in the Midwest.

On one night, suspected poachers cut open more than 40 fish in search of eggs before tossing the carcasses aside, said Brek Henry, the game warden in Rogers County said.

Paddlefish eggs go for $30 to $80 a pound with female fish producing as much as 10 pounds each. A dwindling population of Caspian Sea sturgeon, a favorite source of caviar, has boosted paddlefish egg prices and popularity because the two have similar color and texture.

Poachers sell the eggs to middlemen who in turn sell them to caviar companies, Henry said.

Federal and state authorities recently seized about 80 pounds of fish eggs and equipment in a suspected poaching operation in the Arkansas River basin area.


Firefighter excused for 'Sex and the City'

The New York Fire Department will not discipline a firefighter who appeared in a steamy episode of the cable television series "Sex and the City," the department said Friday.

Michael Lombardi, 38, had permission to have outside employment as an actor, but tradition-minded department brass were embarrassed at the apparent public nudity on national television.

Lombardi clearly appeared in the season premiere of the show, but the male actor's back was to the camera when he engaged in simulated sex with Kim Catrall's character, Samantha, at the back of a fire engine.


Teacher murder video shown

Rather than release a video showing a 13-year-old boy shooting his teacher to death, a judge allowed it to play over and over at the courthouse Friday in West Palm Beach for anyone who wants to see it. Copies are banned, however.

The silent, grainy footage, taken from a security camera, shows Nathaniel Brazill with his arms extended and his back to the camera. He points the gun for several seconds before pulling the trigger. The victim, English teacher Barry Grunow, is not visible when the gun is fired. Afterward, the boy recoils and he heads down the hall, pointing the gun at a math teacher and student before fleeing.

Chief Judge Walter Colbath Jr. ruled July 7 that the minute-long videotape is a public record like other evidence released in the trial, but he banned any reproductions.


Teen's hanging leaves questions

A black teen who died by hanging last month was told by a girlfriend that night that she was in love with someone else, the young woman told police.

Dist. Atty. Buddy McDonald confirmed reports that the statement from 17-year-old Taccara Matthews was shared with Raynard Johnson's family, along with an autopsy report and other documents.

Johnson, 17, was found June 16 hanging from a pecan tree just yards from the front door of his family's rural Marion County home. Two autopsies one commissioned by the family concluded the injuries were consistent with suicide.

The honor student's family maintains he would not have taken his own life. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who believes the teen's death was a lynching, lobbied for a federal investigation since local and state authorities ruled the death a suicide.


1984 hospital death probed as murder

A woman who died in Ohio in 1984 while recuperating from a car accident may have been poisoned by a former doctor who was charged this week with killing patients at a Long Island hospital. The driver of the car was convicted of reckless homicide in the young woman's death.

Michael Swango, 45, is implicated in an intercontinental string of patient and co-worker poisonings.

A federal indictment this week charged Swango only in three New York deaths, but it also alleges that Swango gave Cynthia McGee, 19, a fatal injection in January 1984 when he was a resident at Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus. After McGee died, Scott Bone, the driver of the car that struck her bicycle, was convicted of reckless homicide.


Alleged Nazi aide's lawsuit tossed

A federal judge has tossed out John Demjanjuk's lawsuit claiming a Justice Department probe into allegations that he was a Nazi war criminal amounted to torture. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Matia ruled this week that the government has sovereign immunity and cannot be sued.

The lawsuit, filed in March, sought at least $5 million in damages from the Justice Department and its Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations. It asked that the case against him be dismissed. Last year, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint seeking to revoke his citizenship again because he allegedly failed to disclose his role as a guard at Nazi concentration camps during World War II.


'Petticoat Junction' star dies of cancer

Meredith MacRae, who played comely country girl Billie Jo Bradley in the 1960s sitcom "Petticoat Junction," died Friday from brain cancer. She was 56.

MacRae, who had a tumor removed from the right side of her brain Jan. 28, 1999, and received an excellent prognosis at the time, died at her Manhattan Beach home.

MacRae played Billie Jo from 1966-70 on the CBS series, which starred Bea Benaderet as the widowed owner of the Shady Rest Hotel and mother of three eye-catching daughters who helped run the Hooterville establishment.

MacRae was born in Houston to a Hollywood family: Her father was the late actor-singer Gordon MacRae, who played the lovesick cowboy Curly in "Oklahoma!" Her mother is actress-comedian Sheila MacRae ("The Honeymooners").


Microsoft, EMI team for online record sales

The EMI record label is taking a major plunge into selling downloadable music online, teaming up with Microsoft to put more than 100 albums on sale in the Windows Media format.

In the first large-scale test of digital music sales, the EMI albums by artists ranging from the Smashing Pumpkins to Frank Sinatra will be available for downloading to personal computers via various online music sellers as of 11:01 p.m. CDT Monday, the companies said Friday.

Each music file will have use restrictions written into the software code, limiting the number of times a customer can copy the file for personal use. That helps circumvent a major concern of record labels and artists, who worry that perfect-sounding digital bootlegs would quickly make record sales dive. "Consumers have spoken loudly that they'd like to get their music on something other than round silver platters," said Jay Samit, senior vice president at EMI Recorded Music.


Dad convicted of 4-year-old's killing

A paroled child abuser has been convicted of beating to death his 4-year-old son in a case that led California to consider notifying social workers when certain inmates get out of prison. Douglas Haaland Jr., 27, was found guilty Thursday of second-degree murder. He faces up to life in prison when sentenced Aug. 31. Dustin Haaland was killed in 1998 after he refused to pick up his toys. His father was on parole at the time after serving a sentence for beating his oldest son.

As a result of the boy's death, legislators passed "Dustin's Law," requiring that parole officials notify Child Protective Services when a convicted abuser violates parole. A state audit found the law would not necessarily protect children because social workers would only be notified after a violation. Haaland's father, Douglas Sr., led the effort to pass the original law and is now pushing "Dustin's Law II," which would require CPS to be notified any time a convicted abuser is released from prison. Families of felons also would be notified of parole terms.


Colonel sentenced for drug money laundering

The former commander of the military's anti-drug operation in Colombia was sentenced Thursday to five months in prison for laundering cash from his wife's drug deals.

The sentence by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman surprised Col. James Hiett, and even prosecutors, who did not oppose his bid for probation. Hiett's attorney had argued he deserved a break because of his spotless 24-year military record and because he is raising two sons alone while his wife is in jail. But Korman called Hiett's crime a "betrayal of trust" in the federal war against drugs.

Hiett, 48, pleaded guilty in April to charges he tried to launder $25,000, proceeds from drug shipments his wife made from a post office in the U.S. embassy in Bogota to New York City. Laurie Hiett pleaded guilty in January to charges she shipped packages containing $700,000 worth of heroin and cocaine. She is serving a five-year sentence.


No charges filed in shoplifting death

Police will not press shoplifting charges against the three companions of a black man whose death outside a shopping center sparked protests.

Dearborn Chief Ron Deziel said Friday that the decision was made despite store surveillance videotapes that he said pointed to shoplifting by the man's common-law wife and two children with them. "Be-cause this case has received so much publicity ... I think we would be severely criticized if we brought charges," Deziel said.

The June 22 death of Frederick Finley sparked accusations of racial profiling and a protest outside the Lord & Taylor store. Finley, 32, died after he was subdued by store security guards investigating the alleged shoplifting.

A part-time guard, also black, is charged with involuntary manslaughter.


Judge isn't averse to a little verse

For the second time in his career, Superior Court Judge Michael Eakin has written an opinion in rhyming verse. Last week, Eakin used 121 lines of verse to deny an appeal by a man who had been ordered to pay $1,155 in veterinarian bills after hitting a miniature poodle with his car.

A county judge ruled Sipula was negligent and responsible. Sipula appealed to Superior Court, insisting the dog owner was at fault for walking the dogs in the street. That's where Eakin penned his poem.

It concluded:

So while counsel raises issues that are worthy and well taken

in the end, we find the effort to apply them here's mistaken.

We must conclude the issues raised do not warrant a new trial

and all that we may offer now is this respectful, rhymed denial.

New Jersey

Rabbi resigns after abuse allegations

For 30 years, Rabbi Baruch Lanner was known in the Orthodox Jewish community as a charismatic, dynamic educator, a founding principal of a religious school in New Jersey.

Colleagues and students say Lanner would call parents to persuade them to let their children travel to Israel with him, board students at his Paramus home so he could inspire them to become better Jews.

But in recent months, more than 25 former students have come forward to say that Lanner, a leader in the Orthodox Union's National Conference of Synagogue Youth, sexually, physically and verbally abused them for decades.

The students said Lanner kissed, fondled and hit teen-age girls and kneed some boys in the groin. His accusers also say he attacked a man with a knife. He denies the allegations but resigned as director of regions for the New York-based youth group last month after The Jewish Week published many of the allegations.

New Jersey

Town bans driving while cell phoning

Marlboro Township has become the first community in New Jersey to prohibit the use of hand-held cellular phones while driving.

The Township Council voted 4-0 Thursday night in favor of the ban. Mayor Matthew Scannapieco signed the ordinance a short time later. Under the ban, anyone caught driving with a hand-held cell phone is subject to a fine of up to $250. Hands-free cell phones are permitted, however.

Opponents of the Marlboro ban called it a costly endeavor.

"Your hearts are in the right places, but it's not the purpose of government to protect everyone from everything in life," resident Mark Rosenwald said.


Ship for reef sinks ahead of schedule

A former warship that was to be sunk this weekend to build an artificial reef reached its undersea destination ahead of schedule when larger-than-expected waves overwhelmed it early Friday.

Swells up to 4 feet tall greeted the 2,890-ton HMSC Yukon soon after it was towed into position for today's intended sinking. It went under at 12:25 a.m.

With at least 50 holes cut into the Canadian vessel as passageways for recreational divers, water poured into the Yukon at a rate of 500 gallons a minute, overwhelming the ship's sole pump. It took a little more than 10 minutes before the ship was under water.


Magician settles dispute over name

Poof! Gandalf the Wizard Clown lives on! An agreement between the Long Island magician and the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien allowed Gandalf aka Michael Kaplan to retain his stage name. The Friday deal ended a bitter seven-year battle.

Tolkien's 1937 "The Hobbit" and his subsequent trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" introduced his heroic Gandalf, who battled evil in the fictional Middle Earth. Kaplan's Gandalf did most of his work on Long Island.

During the dispute, Kaplan insisted that the two Gandalfs had one thing in common: Both took their names from 10th century Norse mythology. He argued that made Gandalf public domain an assertion that the Tolkien estate vigorously challenged.


Few gay couples file for civil unions

More out-of-staters than Vermonters are taking advantage of the state's new civil union law.

In the two weeks since the law allowing same-sex couples the legal rights and benefits of marriage, 26 completed licenses have been returned to the state.

Of those, 18 were issued to nonresidents and eight to Vermont couples.

Linda Davis of the vital records division of the state Health Department said Friday it is likely that far more licenses have been issued by town clerks, but they are sent to the state only after the civil union ceremony is held. Couples have 60 days after they receive the license to hold the ceremony. The civil unions have legal significance only in Vermont.

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