Appeals court tosses three-strikes sentence
A federal appeals court Monday overturned a three-strikes sentence of 25 years to life given a repeat shoplifter, saying his first two convictions were not serious enough to justify the lengthy term.
Ruling 2-1, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the term handed to a California man convicted of stealing a $199 VCR violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The appeals court said the punishment did not fit the crime even though the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the same sentences for two California shoplifters.
The Supreme Court upheld California's three-strikes law allowing petty crimes to be the third strike triggering a 25-to-life term, provided the first two strikes were serious or violent felonies.
In the case of Isaac Ramirez decided Monday, the appeals court said his priors were minimal: two unarmed robbery convictions. The defendants the Supreme Court dealt with last year had lengthy and sometimes violent criminal pasts.
Salt Lake City
Judge upholds Clinton's creation of monument
A federal judge on Monday affirmed President Clinton's establishment in 1996 of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a vast expanse in southern Utah nearly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.
The judge dismissed a 1997 lawsuit brought by Utah counties that claimed the president had overstepped his powers by using a 90-year-old law to create the monument.
Clinton's decision to designate 1.7 million acres of canyons, cliffs and plateaus as a monument angered Utah politicians, who said the action was unconstitutional. They argued that he used the 1906 Antiquities Act as a subterfuge to create wilderness -- something they said only Congress could do.
The law gives the president authority to create national monuments. Clinton's use of the law was its first in more than two decades. On monument lands, grazing, mining, logging and similar activities can be prohibited.
Drunken dare leads to fire death
An intoxicated Long Island man died after he lit a rug on fire and challenged his roommate to see who could stay in the house on Fire Island longer, Suffolk County, N.Y., police say.
Police said Thomas Woods, 59, ignited the rug in his house sometime before 8 p.m. Saturday, said Detective Sgt. Ed Fandrey of the Suffolk County homicide squad.
When the fire began spreading dangerously, Woods' roommate, Rod Bennett, ran to a neighbor's house to call 911.
Fandrey said there were no indications of foul play, and that no arrests were made. "I don't expect we're going to be locking anybody up," he said. "It looks like it's a tragedy."
Authorities found Woods' body near the house's entrance, on top of a pile of plastic that had melted off the windows during the fire.
"It looks like he tried to get out and couldn't," Fandrey said.
New York City
Consumer board warns of talent contest scam
A nationwide talent competition for aspiring performers is a sham that charges contestants thousands of dollars but fails to deliver on promised results, state consumer authorities said Monday.
The Fashion Rock contest is an arm of Trans Continental Talent, which is run by music promoter Lou Pearlman, best known for launching the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync.
The competition take place every three months in Orlando, Fla., and winners are promised more than $100,000 in contracts, said Teresa Santiago, executive director of The New York State Consumer Protection Board.
A fine-print notice says the contracts are "endorsement" contracts, but winners are led to believe that they will get work as models or entertainers, Santiago said.
"If a winner is paid anything at all it's only cash paid out in monthly installments over three years," she said. "Fashion Rock should stop pretending to be a contest like 'American Idol."'
Redeployment news sends brother over edge
A Utah National Guardsman, apparently distraught that his brother was being redeployed to Iraq, was shot and killed early Sunday morning after threatening his family and brandishing a shotgun at deputies, authorities in Riverton said.
Chad Thompson, 32, whose family said he had been drinking, was upset after learning that his brother's tour of duty was being extended, according to Sgt. Rosie Rivera, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office.
Thompson, a Guardsman for more than a decade, was a full-time supply staff sergeant stationed at Camp William in Riverton.
Staff Sgt. Robert Thompson is in Kuwait with the Utah Army National Guard's 1457th Engineer Combat Battalion, according to Maj. Lorraine Januzelli, a spokeswoman for the Utah Army National Guard.
Although Robert Thompson's battalion will be deployed at least another 120 days, he probably will be allowed to return home for his brother's funeral, Januzelli said.