Appeals court won't reinstate 1990 arson-murder conviction
Attorney News | 2015/08/19 12:16
An elderly man who spent 24 years in prison for his daughter's death in a fire will remain free after a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday refused to reinstate his murder conviction.

Han Tak Lee, 80, a native of South Korea who earned U.S. citizenship, was exonerated and freed last year after a judge concluded the case against him was based on since-discredited scientific theories about arson. Prosecutors appealed, saying that other evidence pointed to his guilt.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal, meaning Lee will stay out of prison.

The New York City shop owner had taken his 20-year-old, mentally ill daughter to a religious retreat in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains where, prosecutors say, he set fire to their cabin. Lee has long contended the 1989 fire was accidental.

Lee, who returned to Queens after his release from prison, did not answer his phone Wednesday. He told The Associated Press in an interview last month that he still loved America and "I expect America to make the right decision."

His attorney, Peter Goldberger, called on prosecutors to let the ruling stand.

"I hope, now, that they will finally see there is no basis for this conviction," Goldberger said. "They can say it's nobody's fault, that science changed, that this is over now, and the federal court has had the last word."

Monroe County District Attorney David Christine, who prosecuted Lee in 1990 and whose office lost the appeal, did not immediately return a text and email seeking comment.



Court rejects inmate's challenge in 5 Ohio prison slayings
Attorney News | 2015/08/17 12:16
A federal appeals court has rejected a challenge by an inmate convicted and sentenced to be executed for the slayings of five fellow inmates during a 1993 prison riot in Ohio.

Death row inmate Keith LaMar was convicted of aggravated murder in 1995 in the deaths of five inmates during the riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Institution in Lucasville. A jury recommended the death penalty in four of the slayings.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a lower court's decision keeping the 46-year-old LaMar's convictions and death sentences in place.

LaMar argues he was denied a fair trial when prosecutors were allowed to withhold evidence from the defense.

A three-judge panel ruled the evidence would not have changed the outcome of LaMar's trial.



Pistorius prosecutors file appeal at Supreme Court
Court Watch | 2015/08/16 12:15
Prosecutors pushing for a murder conviction against Oscar Pistorius filed papers at South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal on Monday, four days before the Olympic runner is expected to be released from prison and moved to house arrest.

Court registrar Paul Myburgh confirmed the prosecution's papers had been filed. Lawyers for the double-amputee runner have until Sept. 17 to file their response ahead of a hearing in November.

Prosecutors want a panel of judges at the Supreme Court to overrule a decision by another judge to acquit Pistorius of murder for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. Pistorius was instead found guilty of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, for shooting Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door in his home.

He was sentenced to five years in jail, but is expected to be released from the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in the South African capital Pretoria on Friday after serving 10 months of that culpable homicide sentence.

Because of his good behavior, the 28-year-old Pistorius can be released on probation to serve the remainder under house arrest.

Prosecutors announced their intention to appeal Judge Thokozile Masipa's decision shortly after Pistorius' months-long trial last year. They said Masipa made an error in interpreting the law when she cleared Pistorius of murder and found him guilty instead of an unintentional but still unlawful killing.

Quoting a section of South African law known as "dolus eventualis," prosecutors argue in their appeal papers that the former track star should be convicted of murder because he shot through the toilet door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day two years ago, knowing that whoever was behind the door would likely be killed without just cause.



Court fines Washington state over education funding
Legal Topics | 2015/08/15 12:15
Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.

Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.



Court fines Washington state over education funding
Headline Legal News | 2015/08/14 08:37
Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.
 
Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.

Thomas Ahearne, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the court's action "is long overdue."

"The state has known for many, many years that it's violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids," Ahearne said. "And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along."

The lawsuit against the state was brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and education groups — known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit.

In its original ruling, and repeated in later follow-up rulings, the justices have told the Legislature to find a way to pay for the reforms and programs they had already adopted, including all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, student transportation and classroom supplies, and to fix the state's overreliance on local tax levies to pay for education. Relying heavily on local tax levies leads to big disparities in funding between school districts, experts say.



Federal court: Anti-Muslim group can't post ads on buses
Court Watch | 2015/08/13 08:38
An anti-Muslim group cannot post ads on buses in Washington state showing photos of wanted terrorists and wrongly claiming the FBI offers a $25 million reward for one of their captures, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a claim by the American Freedom Defense Initiative that King County violated its First Amendment right to free speech by refusing to post the advertisements on buses.

The group — whose leader, Pamela Geller, organized the Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas that exploded in violence in May — has similar bus ads in other cities and has gone to court with mixed results after some transportation officials rejected them.

David Yerushalmi, the group's lawyer, said it will appeal Wednesday's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Freedom Defense Initiative sought to display an ad in Washington state called "Faces of Global Terrorism," which included 16 photographs of militants with their names listed and the statement "AFDI Wants You to Stop a Terrorist." It said the FBI offers a $25 million reward to capture one of the people shown.



Man charged with killing Memphis officer to appear in court
Court News | 2015/08/12 08:38
An ex-convict charged with fatally shooting a Memphis police officer during a struggle is scheduled to appear in county court Wednesday.

Twenty-nine-year-old Tremaine Wilbourn is being held on $10 million bond on a first-degree murder charge in the Aug. 1 death of Officer Sean Bolton. It's not clear whether Wilbourn has an attorney to contact for comment on the case.

Wilbourn's sister, Callie Watkins, told The Associated Press last week that her brother told her during a phone conversation after the shooting that he was forcibly pulled out of a car by Bolton.

Police have said that Bolton approached the 2002 Mercedes Benz on foot after pulling up in his squad car and that he interrupted a drug deal.

Police say Wilbourn took out a gun and shot Bolton multiple times. Wilbourn was arrested after a two-day manhunt.


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