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Suspect in U Penn student's murder due in California court
Legal Interview | 2018/02/01 22:33
A Southern California man charged in the killing of a University of Pennsylvania student is due in court Friday.

Authorities say Samuel Woodward, 20, of Newport Beach killed 19-year-old sophomore Blaze Bernstein and buried his body in a shallow grave at a neighborhood park not far from the Bernstein family's home in Lake Forest.

Bernstein, who grew up in Orange County and was visiting his family on winter break, was missing for a week after going out with Woodward the night of Jan. 2, according to authorities. Authorities searched for him with help from drone pilots and found his body at the park after rain partially exposed it.

Woodward is charged with murder and an enhancement for use of a knife. He is being held without bail. Bernstein was gay and Jewish and authorities are investigating the possibility of a hate crime.

Authorities say the two men both attended the Orange County School of the Arts but they did not know if they were friends at the time.

According to a court filing obtained by the Orange County Register, Woodward told investigators that he became angry after Bernstein kissed him the night they went to the park.

At college, Bernstein was studying psychology and was recently chosen to edit a campus culinary magazine. Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil for Bernstein and his funeral.

If convicted of the charge and enhancement, Woodward could face as much as 26 years to life in prison.


Pennsylvania GOP take gerrymandering case to US high court
Legal Interview | 2018/01/28 10:37
Pennsylvania's top Republican lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to stop an order by the state's highest court in a gerrymandering case brought by Democrats that threw out the boundaries of its 18 congressional districts and ordered them redrawn within three weeks.

Republicans who control Pennsylvania's Legislature wrote that state Supreme Court justices unconstitutionally usurped the authority of lawmakers to create congressional districts and they asked the nation's high court to put the decision on hold while it considers their claims.

The 22-page argument acknowledged that "judicial activism" by a state supreme court is ordinarily beyond the U.S. Supreme Court's purview. But, it said, "the question of what does and does not constitute a 'legislative function' under the Elections Clause is a question of federal, not state, law, and this Court is the arbiter of that distinction."

Justice Samuel Alito, who handles emergency appeals from Pennsylvania, could ask the registered Democratic voters on the other side of the case to respond. Alito could act on his own, though the full court generally gets involved in cases involving elections. An order could come in a matter of days, although there is no deadline for the justices to act.

Pennsylvania's congressional districts are criticized as among the nation's most gerrymandered. Its case is happening amid a national tide of gerrymandering cases from various states, including some already under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Election law scholars call the Republicans' request for the U.S. Supreme Court's intervention a long shot.

They say they know of no other state court decision throwing out a congressional map because of partisan gerrymandering, and the nation's high court has never struck down an electoral map as a partisan gerrymander.


Judge to pick battlefield for court fight over Manson's body
Legal Interview | 2018/01/11 10:38
Charles Manson orchestrated murders in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles, served time in a state prison in Corcoran and died in a hospital in Bakersfield.

The legal battle for his body or possessions could land in any of three California counties where those cities are located as friends and purported kin wage a court fight Friday that includes nasty accusations about profiteering off the death of the cult leader.

At least three parties have staked claims to collect Manson's body from the Kern County morgue two months after he died and take control of any assets, which could include potentially lucrative rights to the use of his image and songs he wrote and any other property.

"It's a circus show," said a frustrated Ben Gurecki, one of two pen pals who hold dueling wills allegedly signed by Manson. "It's despicable that I'm still sitting here 60 days later and I can't get my friend cremated."

But first a Los Angeles Superior Court judge must decide which court takes up the separate issues of Manson's remains and his estate.

A Florida man, Jason Freeman, claims he's a grandson and the rightful heir and that the killer left no will. He's been challenged in Los Angeles by Michael Channels, another pen pal and collector of Manson memorabilia, who holds a will bearing what appears to be Manson's signature and names him as executor and sole beneficiary.

Gurecki, who like Channels also sells Manson mementos to fans of so-called murderabilia, has filed a will with the Kern County coroner's office bearing Manson's purported signature. It names Gurecki as executor and leaves everything to his "one living child," Matthew Lentz, a Los Angeles musician. Lentz and Gurecki have yet to file the will in court.



UN court hears appeal in Serbian lawmaker's acquittal
Legal Interview | 2017/12/10 11:05
A prosecutor urged U.N. judges Wednesday to overturn the acquittals of a prominent Serbian ultranationalist on atrocity charges, saying that a failure to do so would inflict lasting damage to the legacy of the groundbreaking war crimes tribunal.

Prosecutor Mathias Marcussen told a five-judge appeals panel that the 2016 acquittals of Vojislav Seselj on nine war crimes and crimes against humanity charges were so deeply flawed that they must be reversed or a new trial ordered.

"Justice has not been done," Marcussen said. He argued that the three-judge trial bench that found Seselj not guilty at the end of his marathon trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia made critical errors of fact and law and failed to properly evaluate all the evidence.

At trial, prosecutors accused Seselj of crimes including persecution, murder and torture and demanded a 28-year sentence for his support of Serb paramilitaries during the region's bitter, bloody wars in the early 1990s. Prosecutors argue that Seselj's actions were part of a plan to drive Croats and Muslims out of large areas of Croatia and Bosnia that leaders in Belgrade considered Serb territory.

Marcussen said that allowing Seselj's acquittals to stand would be "not only an affront to the victims of the alleged crimes, it would also seriously undermine the credibility" of the tribunal and the institution called the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals which has been established to deal with appeals and other legal issues left pending when ad hoc tribunals like the Yugoslav court close their doors for good.

A tribunal that prosecuted cases arising from Rwanda's genocide has already closed and the Yugoslav tribunal formally shuts down at the end of December. Seselj's appeal is being handled by the new mechanism.

Seselj, now a Serbian lawmaker, did not attend Wednesday's hearing. Judges gave him 10 days to respond in writing after he receives a transcript of the hearing.



Trump choosing white men as judges, highest rate in decades
Legal Interview | 2017/11/14 11:24
President Donald Trump is nominating white men to America's federal courts at a rate not seen in nearly 30 years, threatening to reverse a slow transformation toward a judiciary that reflects the nation's diversity.

So far, 91 percent of Trump's nominees are white, and 81 percent are male, an Associated Press analysis has found. Three of every four are white men, with few African-Americans and Hispanics in the mix. The last president to nominate a similarly homogenous group was George H.W. Bush.

The shift could prove to be one of Trump's most enduring legacies. These are lifetime appointments, and Trump has inherited both an unusually high number of vacancies and an aging population of judges. That puts him in position to significantly reshape the courts that decide thousands of civil rights, environmental, criminal justice and other disputes across the country. The White House has been upfront about its plans to quickly fill the seats with conservatives, and has made clear that judicial philosophy tops any concerns about shrinking racial or gender diversity.


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