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Lawyers want Supreme Court to block Texas from executing man
Court Press News | 2017/10/19 23:53
Attorneys for an inmate convicted in a prison guard's death are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his Thursday evening execution.

Robert Pruett's lawyers want justices to review whether lower courts properly denied a federal civil rights lawsuit that sought additional DNA testing in the case. They are also questioning whether a prisoner who claims actual innocence, as Pruett does, can be put to death.

If the execution is carried out Thursday, Pruett would be the sixth prisoner executed this year in Texas, which carries out the death penalty more than any other state. Texas put seven inmates to death last year. His execution would be the 20th nationally, matching the U.S. total for all of 2016.

Pruett avoided execution in April 2015, when a state judge halted his punishment just hours before he could have been taken to the death chamber. His lawyers had convinced the judge that new DNA tests needed to be conducted on the steel rod used to stab the 37-year-old Nagle.

The new tests showed no DNA on the tape but uncovered DNA on the rod from an unknown female who authorities said likely handled the shank during the appeals process after the original tests in 2002.

In June, Pruett's execution was rescheduled for October. Pruett's attorneys then unsuccessfully sought more DNA testing and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in August, arguing Pruett had been denied due process. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit last week, and Pruett's attorneys appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday.
 


Judge refuses to end Roman Polanski sex assault case
Court Press News | 2017/08/18 09:50
A Los Angeles judge on Friday denied the impassioned plea of Roman Polanski's victim to end a four-decade-old sexual assault case against the fugitive director.
 
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon ruled that Polanski must return to California if he expects to resolve the charges. The Oscar winner fled the country on the eve of sentencing in 1978.

Gordon's ruling follows a request by Samantha Geimer to end the legal proceedings. The ruling was issued on Polanski's 84th birthday and blamed the director for the fact that the case was still alive.

"Her statement is dramatic evidence of the long-lasting and traumatic effect these crimes, and defendant's refusal to obey court orders and appear for sentencing, is having on her life," Gordon wrote.

Harland Braun, Polanski's attorney, said the ruling came after the judge asked for proposals on how to resolve the case.

Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with Geimer when she was 13. She has said he drugged, raped and sodomized her.


Fraternity brothers due in court in pledge's fatal fall
Court Press News | 2017/06/09 14:34
Members of a Penn State fraternity facing charges related to the death earlier this year of a pledge after a night of heavy drinking are due in court Monday for a hearing about whether there's enough evidence to head to trial.

Prosecutors in the case against the now-shuttered Beta Theta Pi chapter and 18 of its members are leaning heavily on video surveillance recordings made the night 19-year-old sophomore engineering student Tim Piazza was injured in a series of falls at the fraternity after a pledge acceptance ceremony that included heavy drinking.

The defendants face a variety of charges, with eight accused of dozens of crimes, including involuntary manslaughter and felony aggravated assault, while five others are accused only of a single count of evidence tampering.

Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller says prosecutors will play video in court, and she expects the hearing to last all or most of the day.

Authorities have said members of the fraternity resisted summoning help until well into the next morning.

A grand jury report described how members of the fraternity carried Piazza's limp body upstairs, poured liquid on him and even slapped him on the face. When one of them argued to call for medical help, he was confronted and shoved into a wall, the grand jury said.

Piazza, of Lebanon, New Jersey, died at a hospital Feb. 4 from traumatic brain injury and had suffered severe abdominal bleeding. His blood-alcohol measured at a dangerous level.

"I believe this is a case where the defendants have been overcharged by the district attorney's office," said defense attorney Michael Engle, whose client Gary DiBileo, 21, faces 56 counts, including involuntary manslaughter. "We hope to develop more information during the preliminary hearing process, and beyond, that will demonstrate that many of the charges in this case are just not applicable to the conduct."

Engle said DiBileo, a junior from Scranton who recently withdrew from Penn State, was said by a witness to have advocated for calling an ambulance at some point.


9 life sentences in state case on Charleston church slayings
Court Press News | 2017/04/11 09:11
With Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof getting nine life sentences in state court on top of a federal death sentence, his prosecutions are finally over - and some relatives of the nine parishioners he killed at a historically black church say they can finally begin to heal.

Nadine Collier, daughter of the slain 70-year-old Ethel Lance, wore a white suit to Roof's sentencing Monday; a color she said lets the world know a chapter in her life had closed.

"I will not open that book again," she said to Roof, before he was sentenced. "I just want to say, have mercy on your soul."

The 23-year-old avowed white supremacist said nothing in his own defense as he was sentenced Monday on nine counts of murder, along with three charges of attempted murder and a weapons charge. He was taken from court back to the Charleston County jail, where he'll await transfer to a federal prison and, ultimately, the federal system's death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Roof's plea deal came in exchange for an agreement that state prosecutors would drop their own pursuit of the death penalty against him for the June 2015 slaughter at Emanuel AME Church. Judge J.C. Nicholson handed down nine consecutive life sentences.

Roof stood at the defense table with his attorneys, clad in a gray and white striped jail jumpsuit and handcuffed to a chain at his waist.

The deal, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said, serves as an "insurance policy" in the event that Roof's federal conviction falls apart. But it also means the families of the nine people he killed don't have to endure a second grueling trial.

Roof was 21 when he walked into a Wednesday night Bible study session at the historic church known as Mother Emanuel. As witnesses testified in his federal trial last year, Roof waited until the session's closing minutes to unload 77 shots into his victims as they shut their eyes in a final prayer.

Survivors testified during the federal trial, evoking chilling images of the bloody Wednesday night tableau. Jennifer Pinckney, widow of slain pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, brought some jurors to tears as she told how she shielded her young daughter in her husband's office while the bullets rang out in the nearby fellowship hall.

At Roof's first court appearance on the day after his arrest, his victims' relatives spoke of forgiveness, with some saying they mourned their loved ones but would pray for his lost soul. The families of what have become known as the Emanuel Nine have been widely lauded for their willingness to forgive in the face of sorrow but also, in embrace of their strong faith, to pray the man who drastically altered their lives would find peace himself.



South African court rules against ICC withdrawal
Court Press News | 2017/02/18 10:13
A South African court has ruled that the government's decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court was unconstitutional.

A judge in the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday instructed the government to revoke its notice of withdrawal from the human rights tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands.

South Africa's main opposition party had gone to court, saying the government's notice was illegal because the South African parliament was not consulted.

South Africa's withdrawal announcement followed a 2015 dispute over a visit by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir was allowed to leave South Africa even though a local court ordered authorities to stop him.


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