The Trial Diaries

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Paterno son, other former assistant sue Penn State

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa.— A son of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has sued the university over his dismissal from its coaching staff two years ago, saying he has been unfairly linked to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

Former assistant coach Jay Paterno and another former assistant, Bill Kenney, filed a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia on Monday, seeking more than $1 million and a statement from the university saying they did nothing wrong related to Sandusky, who was convicted of abusing several boys, some on campus.

Paterno and Kenney said in the lawsuit that they and other coaches at Penn State were let go in early 2012 “at the height of the Sandusky scandal‘s dark shroud and without any attempt whatsoever by Penn State to preserve the reputations of these guiltless individuals.”

Related: Sandusky son says victim’s story sounded familiar

Joe Paterno was fired as the Nittany Lions’ coach before the end of the 2011 season, and his assistants took over for the last few games. Bill O’Brien, who was hired as coach in January 2012, replaced much of Paterno’s staff.

In response to the claims in the lawsuit, Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said it’s common practice for incoming head coaches to pick their own assistants. She declined to comment further.

Jay Paterno was on the coaching staff for 17 seasons, mostly as quarterbacks coach, and Kenney spent 23 years as an offensive assistant and recruiting coordinator.

Their lawsuit says Penn State’s consent decree with the NCAA over the Sandusky scandal and its commissioned report into the matter led by former FBI director Louis Freeh have made it impossible for them to get hired for comparable positions in college or professional sports or in the media.

Kenney is now an assistant at Western Michigan University, and Paterno is a freelance sports writer and consultant with a book coming out soon.

Their lawsuit says they have been deprived of their constitutional liberty and property interest without due process of law, alleges intentional interference with contractual relations, says a civil conspiracy has occurred and charges that Penn State violated state wage law.

Joe Paterno died of lung cancer in January 2012, two months after Sandusky, his former longtime defensive coordinator, was charged with child sexual abuse. Sandusky was convicted of dozens of criminal counts and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence but maintains his innocence, acknowledging he showered with boys but denying he molested them.

O’Brien left Penn State for the NFL’s Houston Texans. James Franklin‘s first season as Penn State’s head coach starts Aug. 30.

Source: AP

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Opening statements to begin for Michigan man accused in teen’s death

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Opening statements are set to begin on Wednesday in the trial of a white suburban Detroit homeowner charged with killing a black teenager with a shotgun blast to the face after she knocked on his door seeking help early one November morning.

Theodore Wafer, 55, faces a second-degree murder charge and up to life in prison for the killing of Renisha McBride, 19, on his front porch.

The racially charged case has sparked protests in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and comparisons to the 2012 shooting death of unarmed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

Wafer, an airport maintenance worker who cares for his elderly mother, told police after the shooting in November that he believed McBride was breaking into his home and that his shotgun went off accidentally, blasting through a closed screen door.

McBride had a blood alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit for driving in Michigan when she died and had crashed a car hours before, according to witnesses who testified for prosecutors at the preliminary examination.

A woman who reported the crash testified, however, that McBride appeared confused and injured, not combative.

Wafer called 911 after the shooting and police have said he admitted firing the fatal shot but said it was an accident.

Jury selection concluded on Tuesday.

Source: Mary Wisniewski of Reuters

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Kennedy cousin Skakel seeks to suppress evidence

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STAMFORD, Conn.— A lawyer for Michael Skakel is seeking to keep the government from using audio tapes made by the Kennedy cousin for a memoir as evidence in his upcoming murder retrial.

Skakel, the nephew of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, was freed from prison last year after a judge ruled his trial attorney failed to adequately represent him in 2002 when he was convicted of fatally bludgeoning Martha Moxley in Greenwich when they were both 15.

The Greenwich Time reports Skakel’s new attorney on Tuesday sought to suppress the evidence seized from ghostwriter Richard Hoffman and return it to Skakel.

Attorney Stephen Seeger says an investigator misled Hoffman to get the tapes, on which Skakel says he masturbated in a tree outside Moxley’s window the night she was killed.

Source: AP

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Supreme Court allows Arizona execution to proceed

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TUCSON, Ariz. — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed an Arizona execution to go forward amid a closely watched First Amendment fight over the secrecy surrounding lethal injection drugs in the country.

The court ruled in favor of Arizona officials in the case of Joseph Rudolph Wood, who was convicted of murder in the 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father. The state plans to execute him Wednesday.

Wood, 55, argued he has a First Amendment right to details about the state’s lethal injection method, the qualifications of the executioner and who makes the drugs. Such demands for greater transparency have become a new legal tactic in death penalty cases in recent months.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had put Wood’s execution on hold, saying the state must reveal the information. That marked the first time an appeals court has acted to delayed an execution based on the issue of drug secrecy, said Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

The 9th Circuit gave new hope to death penalty opponents. While many death row inmates have made the same First Amendment argument as Wood, other appeals courts have shot them down. But the Supreme Court has not been receptive to the defense lawyers’ latest arguments, ruling against them each time the transparency issue has come before the justices.

Had the Supreme Court upheld the 9th Circuit’s judgment, “the whole country would likely be affected,” Dieter said.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Arizona attorney general’s office, said the agency had no comment on the Supreme Court ruling but will issue a statement after Wood’s execution.

Wood’s attorney, Dale Baich, said, “The secrecy which Arizona fought tooth and nail to protect is harmful to our democracy because it prevents the public, the courts and the condemned from knowing if executions are carried out in compliance with all state and federal laws.”

Wood has one more appeal for a stay of execution pending before the 9th Circuit, Baich said. The habeas corpus challenge to his conviction and sentence will be decided by Wednesday.

Wood’s case highlights scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after several controversial executions, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die. In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted the process of his execution because the drugs weren’t being administered properly.

States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them because of concerns over harassment.

In the Wood case, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit put the execution on hold after finding Wood “raised serious questions” about whether he should have access to the drug information and executioner qualifications. Arizona appealed to the full 11-member court but was denied a rehearing, then appealed to the Supreme Court on Monday.

“(The) Ninth Circuit has enjoined a state from carrying out a lawful execution so that the inmate can pursue litigation unrelated to the lawfulness of the execution,” the state’s attorneys wrote.

The high court’s short order Tuesday afternoon didn’t delve into the issue but simply said the appeals court’s judgment is vacated.

The fight over the Arizona execution has also attracted attention because of a dissenting judge’s comments that made a case for a firing squad as a more human method of execution.

“The guillotine is probably best but seems inconsistent with our national ethos. And the electric chair, hanging and the gas chamber are each subject to occasional mishaps. The firing squad strikes me as the most promising,” wrote Alex Kozinski, the 9th Circuit’s chief judge. “Using drugs meant for individuals with medical needs to carry out executions is a misguided effort to mask the brutality of executions by making them look serene and peaceful — like something any one of us might experience in our final moment.”

Source: AP

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New arrest linked to gun used after Boston attacks

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BOSTON — A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is believed to have provided the handgun used to kill a Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer during the manhunt, people with knowledge of the investigation said Tuesday.

Stephen Silva made an initial appearance in federal court on charges related to heroin trafficking and possession of a handgun with an obliterated serial number. An attorney for Silva, Jonathan Shapiro, said Tuesday evening that he received the case only a few hours earlier and was not in a position to comment.

The 9 mm Ruger pistol described in the indictment is the same handgun that was used to kill MIT police officer Sean Collier during the manhunt for the bombing suspects, according to the two people who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation. Collier’s slaying is not mentioned in the grand jury indictment, filed July 15.

According to the indictment, Silva knowingly had possession of the gun, “which had the importer’s and manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated, and altered and had previously been shipped and transported in interstate and foreign commerce.”

Silva is a friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He said in court Tuesday that he graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 2011, the same year as Tsarnaev. Silva was ordered to remain in custody ahead of a bail hearing scheduled for Aug. 6.

Dzhokhar’s brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was killed in a shootout with police several days after the bombings. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev escaped but was soon found, wounded and hiding in a boat dry-docked in a backyard in suburban Watertown.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled for trial in November. He faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.

Collier, a 26-year-old MIT campus police officer, was shot multiple times in his car.

Source: DENISE LAVOIE of Associated Press

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Jury to weigh murder in pig mask stabbing of ‘messy’ ex-wife

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MORRISTOWN N.J. – A prosecutor on Tuesday held up the rubber pig mask found on the face of a woman stabbed 84 times and told the jury in the murder trial of the victim’s ex-husband it showed his contempt for the woman he called a messy housekeeper.

Stabbing the air repeatedly with the 8-inch kitchen knife used to kill Judith Novellino, 62, the prosecutor said Anthony Novellino, 66, should be found guilty of murder in the June 19, 2010 slaying in their onetime home.

“Don’t confuse passion with anger,” Assistant Morris County Prosecutor Margaret Calderwood said in her closing argument in Morris County Superior Court.

“You don’t methodically go to the closet and pull out a pig mask and put it on her” without being fully aware of your actions, she said.

Anthony Novellino had been living at the home in Denville in northern New Jersey. On the day she was killed, his ex-wife reportedly went there to retrieve some of her belongings.

Attorneys for both sides said Anthony Novellino emailed photos of the unkempt condition of the home to friends and relatives. The attorneys said he complained that Judith Novellino kept a sloppy home, which was a sticking point in their divorce proceedings.

Prosecutors said the emails were further evidence of his contempt for his wife, whose body was later found wearing the pig mask and with 84 stab wounds.

Defense attorney Michael Priarone said the emails were simply evidence of his client’s sometimes immature behavior.

In his closing argument, Priarone called the stabbing a terrible act but asked the jury to find that his client suffered a kind of temporary insanity, which could reduce a murder charge to manslaughter.

Throughout the closing arguments, Novellino, who wore a navy blue blazer, sat motionless, looking straight ahead toward Judge Robert Gilson and never glancing at the jury.

Source: Reuters

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Trial date set in Colorado theater shooting case

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CENTENNIAL, Colo.— Defense attorneys in the Colorado theater shooting case are asking for more time before the trial to interview the psychiatrist and others involved in defendant James Holmes’ first sanity evaluation.

They say they can’t get that and other tasks finished by the Dec. 8 trial date, but Arapahoe County District Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. was unmoved Tuesday and stuck by the date.

Holmes pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges of killing 12 people and injuring 70 in the July 2012 attack. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Holmes underwent a sanity evaluation last summer, but Samour ruled it was flawed and ordered another to take place this summer.

Source: AP

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