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'Radical reform' to state law would allow couples to divorce outside court, if approved

By Martha Neil 

Two Minnesota lawmakers have drafted legislation that would offer a new alternative to traditional divorce to those who want it.

The Cooperative Private Divorce proposal, which family therapists helped them write, would offer couples a chance to essentially create their own divorce terms, outside the family court system, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

However, the idea is already drawing fire from some matrimonial law practitioners, who say the problem with traditional divorces is created by warring spouses, not the court system.

Attorney Michael Boulette questions whether the idea is constitutional, given the power accorded to state courts to hear divorce cases in Minnesota’s constitution. Plus, if the parties are in accord, getting a divorce is nearly as easy as getting a driver’s license, he tells the newspaper.

Attorney Mike Dittberner said it is already possible for couples to decide together on what they want, with minimal lawyer involvement, under the current system. He anticipates that those allowed to end their marriages outside the court system, if the bill were to pass, could make mistakes that would be costly and time-consuming to try to resolve years later.

“It’s going to place courts in positions of trying to fix all these problems in the future,” he said, “and you’ll see people being forced to hire attorneys to clean up this mess that was created by a sloppy process.”

William Doherty, a therapist and a family social sciences professor at the University of Minnesota, helped draft the bill, which he describes as “radical reform.” He says any court divorce proceeding, by its nature, becomes adversarial, taking control away from the parties.

“When we put divorce in the court, it’s like when you criminalize marijuana; it’s in the criminal justice system,” he told the Star Tribune. “Once we say that divorce takes a court order signed by a judge, we are now in a system where experts in adversarial work hold sway.”

Alabama probate judge cites differing decisions on gay marriage, opposed federal class-action bid

By Debra Cassens Weiss

ABA Journal

An Alabama probate judge faces differing court decisions after a federal judge on Monday refused to stay a February order requiring him to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples who challenged the state’s ban on gay marriage.

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade said in her Monday order (PDF) that Judge Don Davis of Mobile County “has not argued, much less shown that he is likely to succeed on the merits.” Nor has he shown irreparable injury if a stay is denied, Granade said.

“Judge Davis states that he has been placed in a potential conflict between this court’s orders and the orders of the Alabama Supreme Court and its Chief Justice, Roy Moore,” Granade wrote. “Judge Davis laments that he has continued to be at the center of a statewide confusion. Although the court would agree that the developments in these same-sex marriage cases has at times seemed dizzying, the court finds that Judge Davis has not shown that a stay is warranted.”

Granade noted that Davis complied with her February order and all of the plaintiffs had received marriage licenses.

Granade’s refusal to grant a stay is at odds with an Alabama Supreme Court decision earlier this month that barred the state’s probate judges from issuing gay-marriage licenses.

The Alabama Supreme Court decision said state courts may interpret the Constitution “independently from, and even contrary to, federal courts,” though state court decisions on federal questions may be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision ordered Davis to advise the court whether Granade’s order only applied to the four couples in the lawsuit.

Davis had reopened his office for marriage licenses after Granade’s February order, then closed the office on March 4 after the Alabama Supreme Court ruling, reports.

Heather Fann, a lawyer who represents gay couples on behalf of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told that she believes Davis can comply with Granade’s order by declining to grant marriage licenses to all couples. Alabama law says probate judges may grant marriage licenses, but doesn’t require them to do so. The Human Rights Campaign, however, said Davis is violating the federal court order by denying same-sex couples the opportunity to get marriage licenses.

The plaintiffs in the federal litigation are seeking to certify the suit as a class action that would bind all of the state’s probate judges. Lawyers for Davis opposed class-action status. The state attorney general has until March 23 to respond to the motion for a class action.

Once on death row, man released after 39 years behind bars gets $1M for wrongful imprisonment

By Martha Neil 

An Ohio man imprisoned for 39 years based on false testimony in a murder case has been awarded more than $1 million in compensation.

Ricky Jackson, now 59, cried last year when he learned he was going to be released by Cuyahoga County, according to the Associated Press and an earlier story by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. A Court News Ohio article provides more details.

Jackson and two others were convicted in 1975 based on the testimony of a 13-year-old boy named Eddie Vernon, who as an adult has admitted that he had lied on the stand. Vernon signed an affidavit in 2014 saying that his testimony had been coerced by police, and his recantation was corroborated.

A ruling last month by a court of common pleas judge established that Jackson had been wrongfully convicted. The court of claims then determined that he is entitled to receive $1,008,055.80 for the 14,178 days he served in prison. The two men who were convicted along with Jackson were also exonerated and will receive compensation, but the amounts have not yet been determined.

Jackson may be the longest-serving inmate ever to be exonerated in the U.S.

Colorado lawmakers gear up for construction-defects reform in 2015

By John Aguilar

The Denver Post

Supporters of a change to a Colorado law blamed for slowing condominium construction to a trickle are hopeful 2015 will be the year they succeed.

Lawmakers have tried for the past two years to reform Colorado's construction-defects law, which developers complain makes building condos too fraught with legal liability.

Both times, the legislature came up empty.

But that could change in the new legislative session, which begins Wednesday. Supporters of reforming Colorado's law say a new Lakewood ordinance, designed to spur condo building in that city, is apt to serve as the impetus for passing a bill, as other cities eye similar ordinances.

"A patchwork around the state on this issue is not the way to go," said Rep. Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, who was part of the reform effort in the last session. "Hopefully, the Lakewood measure will spur the conversation this year."

According to the market research firm Metrostudy, condos accounted for more than 20 percent of all housing starts — or more than 4,000 units — in late 2005 but only 3 percent through the first three quarters of 2014.

Just last month, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said reforming the law was his top legislative priority.

"Right to repair"A key concern for builders is that Colorado law lets the majority of a homeowners association board, rather than a majority of the homeowners, decide whether to sue over construction defects. The law also allows home owners to reject a fix offered by a builder even before the builder does the work.

Builders say the law is particularly troublesome for condos because so many home owners live under one roof, complicating legal action.

In October, Lakewood took matters into its own hands by passing an ordinance making it tougher for homeowners living in multi-family developments to sue over defects, like leaky windows, cracked concrete and bad drainage.

The city's measure gives builders a "right to repair" faulty work before facing legal action and requires that a majority of home owners approve legal action before it is taken.

Nancy Stockton, president of the homeowners association at the Vallagio at Inverness in Arapahoe County, said following Lakewood's example statewide would only make it that much harder to hold builders accountable for the quality of their work.

"I think it would be a license for builders to cut corners and be even more lax in their construction," said Stockton, whose community is in litigation over alleged defects. "The dispute process is already onerous."

John Stovall, a resident at Denver's Penterra Plaza, said it took a lawsuit seeking $20 million to get a $10.5 million settlement from the developer to fix the 24-story building's problems.

He said initial efforts to get the problems fixed were inadequate, leading to the litigation and then months where homeowners were besieged by workers fixing windows and pushing wheelbarrows of bricks through their high-end units to address subpar mortar work.

"They had to go through each unit multiple times," Stovall said. "It went on for essentially two years. These are people's homes."

But builders, and increasingly municipal leaders, say in many cases homeowners associations and trial lawyers are just looking for any opportunity to exploit honest and fixable mistakes.

The accompanying spike in the cost of insurance policies for condo projects has deterred many builders from taking on the work in Colorado, they say.

Justin McClure, a principal with Louisville-based DELO, said getting a loan for condo construction is tough because lenders are worried about the project getting tangled up in legal action.

DELO is sitting on a 46-acre parcel in Erie and a 20-acre parcel in Longmont, both of which McClure said would be perfect for condos.

"A lot of my building partners have ended up in litigation," he said. "It's just not worth taking on that type of liability."


Lawsuit over Colorado marijuana legalization takes rare legal path

By John Ingold 

The Denver Post

In suing to stop marijuana legalization in Colorado, two neighboring states have embarked down an arcane legal pathway that could take years to reach a conclusion, legal scholars say.

Nebraska and Oklahoma last week asked the U.S. Supreme Courtto toss out portions of Colorado's pot legalization law. The states contend that Colorado's law — and especially Colorado's licensing and regulation of marijuana stores — violates the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which says the federal law reigns when state and federal laws are in irreconcilable conflict.

But the infrequency with which states sue other states makes it impossible to predict how the case will play out. The nation's highest court could shut down Colorado's burgeoning recreational marijuana industry, calling into question the similar industry in Washington state and the planned industries in Alaska and Oregon. Or it could refuse to hear the case, leaving Colorado's law intact.

"The court rarely grants such cases, perhaps one or two a year," James Pfander, a law professor at Northwestern University, wrote in an e-mail.

By U.S. law, states suing other states must file their cases directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Because they originate with the Supreme Court, such cases are known as "original proceedings."

Only two such cases were filed at the Supreme Court in the court's October 2013 term — out of more than 7,300 filed in total.According to the Federal Judicial Center, fewer than 140 such cases have been filed since 1960, and the court declined to hear roughly half of those cases.

In contrast to typical lawsuits, which are guaranteed at least an initial review by a judge, the first step for any original case is to persuade the Supreme Court to hear it. That's why the Nebraska- Oklahoma filing last week contained three separate elements: a motion asking the Supreme Court for permission to file the lawsuit; a complaint explaining the lawsuit; and a brief providing the legal basis for the lawsuit.

Pet Shop Ownder Accused of Battery With a Bearded Dragon

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on January 7, 2015 10:34 AM

The owner of a Florida reptile store is facing criminal charges after allegedly slapping employees with a bearded dragon, putting the animal in his mouth, and swinging it in the air.

Benjamin Siegel, the 40-year-old owner of Siegel Reptiles in Deerfield Beach, was arrested and charged with battery and animal cruelty, reports The Sun-Sentinel. Siegel's bizarre reptile assault was reportedly captured on the store's video surveillance system.

And as you may recall, this isn't the first time Siegel and his store have made strange headlines.

Store Held Fatal Roach-Eating Contest

Siegel's store was also the site of a 2012 roach-eating contest that led to a man's death. Edward Archibald won the contest, beating out 30 competitors by eating dozens of roaches and other bugs to win a free python from Siegel's store. Unfortunately, Archibald was unable to relish his victory: He died soon after the contest ended.

Authorities later determined that Archibald, 32, had died after choking to death on bug parts and his own vomit. Archibald had signed a liability waiver prior to taking part in the contest and it doesn't appear that Siegel was ever charged with any criminal violations in connection with Archibald's death.

Battery, Animal Cruelty Alleged

Siegel is, however, facing several criminal charges for this latest incident, including two counts of battery for allegedly striking employees with the bearded dragon.

battery occurs when one person makes intentional contact with another person that is harmful or offensive, including contact made through the use of an object, or in this case, a living reptile. Under Florida law, simple battery is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

Siegel also accused of animal cruelty. Under Florida law, when a person intentionally commits an act that results in the cruel death or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering of an animal, that person may be charged with a third-degree felony.

Court records show that Siegel was charged with cocaine possession in December. Those charges are still pending, The Sun-Sentinel reports.

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CIA Interrogation Program Was Re-Reversed Engineered Torture

By Ryan Casey/Huffington Post

The Bush-Cheney torture techniques were never meant to elicit reliable intelligence--they were meant to torture. I know, because they were used on me.

Many Americans assume the architects of the CIA's so-called "enhanced interrogation" program were hardened, trained professionals of the storied spy agency. But as the Senate torture report makes clear, the policy was, in fact, the brainchild of two psychologist contractors previously employed by the U.S. Air Force's SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) program. The history of this program reveals its true nature, and it has nothing to do with professional interrogation. The point of the SERE program is torture, and when the CIA hired SERE psychologists, that's exactly what it got.

Nearly 13 years after the CIA established secret "black site" prisons around the world to hold and interrogate detainees in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has released the executive summary of its report on the program. Among its 20 key findings, the report concludes that the program was (1) "not an effective means of acquiring intelligence," (2) "rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness," (3) "brutal and far worse than the CIA represented," (11) "unprepared as it began operating," (12) "deeply flawed throughout the program's duration," and (13) the CIA had "overwhelmingly outsourced operations," (18) "ignored numerous internal critiques, criticisms, and objections" and ultimately (20) "damaged the United States' standing in the world."

In February 2003, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq based partly on faulty intelligence emanating from forced confessions by detainees in U.S. custody, I shivered alone in my "POW" cell at SERE school, somewhere in the woods of northern Maine. As a Naval Flight Officer fresh out of flight school, advanced SERE training was the next hurdle in my Navy adventure that had begun more than five years earlier at Annapolis. I hadn't eaten or slept in almost a week, and I had no idea whether it was day or night. As I peered out through the keyhole, a huge, blinking eye stared back at me, watching my every move. Only later did I realize I was hallucinating. But even in this groggy state--and even after the torture--I still knew well enough I was in training, and this would all be over soon. The Navy had invested too much in me to allow any lasting damage, I figured. Of course, real prisoners aren't comforted by such a luxury. And in that unpleasant moment, I remember gushing with patriotic emotion, and taking solace in one uplifting thought: "At least my country doesn't do this to people."

In retrospect, that seems naive. But at the time, the world did not yet know that the U.S. government had enthroned torture as official policy, and constructed an extensive legal fig leaf to support it. To flex American muscle, the Bush Administration transformed the very methods used on officers like me in SERE training into the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" program. I felt violated and ashamed for my country.

The SERE program was established by the U.S. military in the 1950s to prepare its personnel at high risk of capture to resist torture at the hands of the enemy. Previously during the Korean War, Chinese and North Korean communists subjected American prisoners to brutal torture and propaganda measures. This harsh treatment took not only a physical and mental toll on American prisoners individually, it decimated morale and mutual support among the POWs as a group. Following termination of hostilities in Korea and the POWs' release, 21 Americans refused repatriation, choosing instead to remain in China. Some former prisoners who returned to the U.S. were charged with crimes including treason, desertion and mistreatment of fellow prisoners.

Hence, the Armed Forces reverse-engineered the torture measures inflicted on its troops in Korea, instituting the SERE program to coach resistance to interrogation and propaganda ploys. Every captured service member has a duty, the military preached in SERE, to "return with honor." By the time John McCain, James Stockdale and others were held at Hỏa Lò Prison (aka the "Hanoi Hilton") in North Vietnam in the 1960s, all high risk of capture personnel like aviators and special forces had been trained in torture resistance and the U.S. military's Code of Conduct, a sacred doctrine governing how combatants must evade capture, resist enemy coercion, and keep faith with their fellow prisoners.

Although the Geneva Conventions require that "Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated," the North Vietnamese maintained that American prisoners were"war criminals," engaged in an illegal war of aggression, and therefore not entitled to the protections the Geneva Conventions provide. Consequently, American POWs in Hanoi endured brutal torture, including beatings, rope bindings in stress positions and prolonged solitary confinement. Just as the North Vietnamese had justified their actions by delegitimizing their American enemies, Bush Administration lawyers similarly argued three decades later that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terrorism suspects.

In the Administration's panic following 9/11, top officials led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his lawyer, David Addington, sought to demonstrate American strength to the Muslim world. The reverse-engineered torture techniques used in SERE training were haphazardly engineered back for use in CIA interrogations. The Senate reportexplains:

The CIA contracted with two psychologists to develop, operate, and assess its interrogation operations. The psychologists' prior experience was at the U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school. Neither psychologist had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialized knowledge of al-Qa'ida, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.

By 2005, the psychologists, James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen of Spokane, WA, had formed a company specifically to contract with the CIA. The agency, in turn, outsourced virtually all aspects of the program to Mitchell, Jessen & Associates in the form of a contract with options totaling more than $180 million. Despite having no experience or training in actual interrogation, Mitchell and Jessen personally interrogated many of the CIA's most significant detainees. To the degree there was any effort to assess the effectiveness of the interrogation program, Mitchell and Jessen graded their own work. By 2009, the psychologists had collected $81 million on the contract when the Obama Administration abruptly terminated it. The Senate report also notes that in 2007, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates received a multi-year indemnification agreement from the CIA to shield the company and its employees from legal liability arising out of the program. So far the CIA has paid out more than $1 million pursuant to the agreement.

The American public is woefully uninformed on torture, and few critics have the credibility to confront this damaging and demoralizing blight to our national character. A HuffPost/YouGov poll in April 2014 showed that 68 percent of Americans think government-sanctioned torture is sometimes justified. Sadly, Hollywood ticking-bomb scenarios and fear-mongering pundits shape the views of too many Americans, and even those whose consciences make them morally queasy on torture choose to cover their eyes and ears because they think it works, and they've been told it is necessary.

But even as President Obama has called torture by its name, his Department of Justice has so far refused to hold the CIA and top Bush-Cheney officials accountable. At Nuremberg, the U.S. led the effort in prosecuting Third Reich officials who provided the legal basis for Nazi war crimes. Today, in contrast, out of political expediency, President Obama has expressed a desire to "look forward as opposed to looking backwards." But abdicating our responsibility to uphold the rule of law only makes government-sanctioned torture during a future war, under a future president,more likely.

America's new confrontation with asymmetric warfare forces us to rethink challenging moral questions of jus in bello; that is, the right conduct in war. Since George Washington was our Commander in Chief, the United States has pledged totreat all prisoners humanely in wartime. As a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, we must uphold these principles and values, not pick and choose which enemies deserve protection under human rights law. Our treatment of even our most heinous enemies reflects on us, not them. This descent into the dark world of torture represents an unprecedented ethical lapse of American ideals, and severely undermines our self-identity as a shining beacon of truth and justice in the world.

My service in the United States Navy has been the greatest honor of my life. But with honor comes responsibility. It is long past time that we restore America's honor in the world by reckoning with this sad chapter in our recent past.

Chimps Are Not Legal Persons: N.Y. Appellate Court

By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 5, 2014 8:01 AM

The rise of the apes may be nigh, as a New York appellate court unanimously denied that chimpanzees were legal persons.

On Thursday, the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division issued a decision declaring that chimps -- including a 26-year-old chimp named "Tommy" -- were not entitled to the same legal protections as human inmates because they aren't legally considered "persons." The New York Daily News reports that Tommy is owned by an upstate New York couple, and this case was an attempt to free him from their care.

What exactly does this chimp decision mean for us humans?

Humans Are People, Not Chimps

Humans and chimps both descend from a common ancestor, but unfortunately for Tommy, only humans are legally considered people. Chimps, like all other non-human animals, are considered by law to be property. This is the reason why you can't give money or property to your cat or dog in your will -- both are animals that are also considered property, not people.

Animal rights activists like those with the Nonhuman Rights Project disagree with this species-based distinction, arguing that chimps have fundamental rights as legal persons. One of these fundamental rights, they argued, was the right to liberty protected byhabeas corpus -- often invoked by prisoners or detainees to contest their imprisonment.

In a unanimous decision, the New York state appellate court noted that one of the things that define a legal "person" is the ability to take on legal duties and be held responsible for its actions. Since chimps can do neither, the court stated, it is "inappropriate" to give them legal personhood.

Perhaps a Chimp Corporation?

As you may be wondering, the court did acknowledge that common law and the U.S. Supreme Court have acknowledged and expanded the rights of corporations as "people." While corporations are not natural persons or even actual beings, they seem to fit the court's framework of an entity that can bear legal duties.

Corporations even have religious freedom rights thanks to a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. Chimps can't form a corporation though, as only a legal person can complete the legal steps necessary to form one.

The closest non-human primates can have to legal rights are the protections afforded to them by trusts and corporations set up for their benefit. Which, honestly, is more legal attention than some humans get.

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Man Swaps Furniture While Neighbors Are Out, Gets Arrested

By Daniel Taylor, Esq.

A Washington couple came home from a weekend trip to find that their furniture had been swapped out for furniture they didn't recognize.

The couple also found a collection of empty beer bottles and pizza boxes inside their apartment, reports The News Tribune. The receipt inside the pizza box included the name and information of one of the culprits. A traffic ticket also left behind included both the name and the address of the second alleged furniture swapper.

Conveniently enough for police, the address listed on the traffic ticket was right next door.

Neighbor Thought Furniture Was 'Abandoned': Police

The couple's neighbor told police that he entered the couple's apartment after finding the door open. Having heard from another neighbor that the couple might be moving, he told police that he thought that the couple had abandoned their furniture. He was also drunk at the time.

Soon, the neighbor and his friend began moving the couple's living room set into the neighbor's apartment. Police believe that despite the neighbor's claim that the front door was open, he and his associate entered the neighboring apartment through a crawl space, as the neighbor's brother had done previously when different tenants were living in the neighboring unit.

Along with an inflatable couch, lamps, tables and a TV stand, police also found military equipment, a papasan chair, an ironing board, and a box of women's shoes, among the items purloined from the couple's house.

Residential Burglary

The man and his associate were both arrested and charged with residential burglary. Burglary is generally considered the unlawful entry into a structure, such as a home or business, with the intent to commit a crime inside, usually the crime of theft or larceny.

Under Washington law, residential burglary is considered a Class B felony. Class B felonies are punishable by up to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $20,000. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

Arkansas Governor To Pardon Son On Drug Charges

By Ed Payne | CNN

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe plans to pardon his son for a felony drug charge from more than a decade ago.

"It will probably be in the next few weeks," said Matt DeCample, a spokesman for the Democratic governor.

"For any pardons the governor does, the person has to have finished all terms of their sentence ... and then had a period of time where they've shown they have straightened their lives out."

Kyle Beebe, who is now 34, was convicted in 2003 of possession of a controlled substance -- marijuana. He was fined and sentenced to three years supervised probation, according to CNN affiliate KATV.

The Arkansas Parole Board recommended the pardon last month. It came after Kyle Beebe wrote a lengthy letter in his pardon application.

"Mr. Governor, I am asking for a second chance at life. I am asking for a second chance to be the man that I know that I can be," Kyle Beebe said.

"At the time of my arrest I was living in a fantasy world, not reality. I was young and dumb. At that time in my life I felt like I was missing something and I tried to fill that emptiness by selling drugs."

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Man Held Without Bond In Wife's RMNP Death

By Sadie Gurman | The Coloradoan

A man accused of pushing his wife to her death off a cliff in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park also killed his first wife 17 years earlier, prosecutors said Wednesday, and a judge agreed the cases were “glaringly” similar.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen M. Tafoya ordered Harold Henthorn, 58, to remain jailed without bond after a hearing in which prosecutors argued he was a dangerous flight risk with $1.5 million at his disposal that includes some of his late wife’s assets.

“We don’t believe it was his first murder,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Suneeta Hazra told the judge. “He committed an earlier murder of his first wife in remarkably similar circumstances.”

Henthorn only has been charged in the death of his second wife, 50-year-old Toni Henthorn. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a charge of first-degree murder.

Prosecutors said Henthorn plotted and planned to push her more than 140 feet off a cliff in a remote area far from the trail the couple had been hiking on Sept. 29, 2012. Henthorn had taken his wife to see the resplendent autumn color and snowy peaks of the national park to celebrate their 12th wedding anniversary.

Henthorn was the only witness to the fall. Hazra said investigators have talked extensively with friends and acquaintances who convinced them he was dangerous. A grand jury indicted against him last week. Prosecutors also examined his financial records that showed Henthorn was living off $1.5 million in assets that were partly from his late wife.

Henthorn told friends he was a self-employed fundraiser, but an examination of his tax returns and other documents found no evidence that he had any income from regular employment, said Dana Chamberlin, an auditor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver.

The judge said she did not know the exact source of Henthorn’s money, “but it is not explained by any kind of employment.”

“To have ready access to $1.5 million in cash is very troubling in a case of this kind because it means the defendant has the means to flee,” Tafoya said in deciding to keep Henthorn jailed. Also disturbing, she said, were recent transfers of large amounts of money into accounts belonging to Henthorn’s brother. That could be a sign of someone hiding money for a nest egg.

Only after the death did Toni Henthorn’s relatives realize she was covered by three life insurance policies totaling $4.5 million. A claim was sent in for one policy days after she died.

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Wayne Sperling Pleads Guilty In "Horrific" Denver Child Abuse Case

By Jordan Steffan | The Denver Post

A Denver father on Thursday pleaded guilty to child abuse in a case that left his four young sons in squalor, unable to speak in more than grunts.

Wayne Sperling accepted a plea agreement in Denver District Court and pleaded guilty to one felony count of child abuse naming all four boys. The original six charges were dropped. 

As part of the agreement, prosecutors agreed not to ask for a sentence of more than seven years in prison, but the judge still has discretion to sentence him to more time. The 67-year-old may also be sentenced to probation. 

Sperling, who remains free on bond, faces sentencing on Dec. 30.

The boys' mother, Lorinda Bailey,  previously pleaded guilty to child abuse and was sentenced last week to 90 days in the Denver jail and five years of probation.

Bailey and Sperling were arrested in October 2013 after police removed the four malnourished boys from the squalid apartment. The boys — ages 2, 4, 5 and 6 at the time — were not potty-trained, according to an arrest affidavit.

District Court Judge Eric Elliff described the conditions in which the boys were raised as "horrific."

The boys are together and improving, prosecutors said.

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Colorado Teachers Take Advantage Of Free Gun Safety Classes


More than 400 Colorado educators learned how to handle and shoot firearms on Saturday during a free class offered by the Centennial Gun Club.

The club said it organized Saturday’s lessons at Centennial Airport in response to school shootings and other gun violence in gun-free zones across the country. Teachers learned on a gun similar to a Glock 17. It shoots lasers instead of bullets.

“I’m passionate about teaching,” first-grade teacher Samantha Schuller, an attendee, said.

Unlike most other educators who learned gun safety on Saturday, Schuller’s perspective is much more personal.

As a high school sophomore, she was taken hostage by a gunman at Platte Canyon High School on Sept. 27, 2006. The gunman killed one student before killing himself.

“It has affected me my whole life,” Schuller said.

She is working toward her concealed carry permit.

“I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to feel like I can protect myself,” she said.

Centennial Gun Club CEO Dick Abramson created the free classes.

“We’re very concerned about the safety of our kids,” he said.

Abramson said that although Colorado teachers are not allowed to bring guns into classrooms, knowing how to act during a school shooting is just as important.

“We want them to know how to recognize that gun, to get the gun unloaded and make it safe,” he said.

Schuller said she’s taking the classes because she doesn’t want to feel helpless.

“That’s the last thing I want,” Schuller said. “I think this is one small step I can do for now.”

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Pot In NYC May Soon Net Just Ticket, Not An Arrest

By Ralph Ellis | CNN

New York City will change its policy on possession of small amounts of marijuana, giving police officers the option of writing offenders a ticket instead of taking them into custody, city officials said Monday at a press conference.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the change will remove the stigma of a criminal conviction for many young people who are arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Such a conviction can prevent people from getting a job or housing, he said.

"A summons will not affect their future," he said. "An arrest could."

The policy change, which goes into effect November 19, will only affect cases involving 25 grams (.88 ounce) or less of marijuana, Police Commissioner William Bratton said.

The officer can choose to write a citation, which requires the suspect to appear in court later, Bratton said. The marijuana would be seized and the person who had the marijuana would continue with their day. The fine for a first offense would usually be $100, officials said.

Officers will make judgment call

If the officer does decide to take the suspect into custody, the suspect would be handcuffed and taken to the station house for fingerprinting and a mugshot, Bratton said. Police didn't specify the penalties but said they'd be tougher than for a citation.

As to how that decision would be made, de Blasio said, "An officer ultimately has to make the judgment on the scene."

If police find somebody smoking marijuana -- as opposed to simply possessing it -- the suspect would have to go through the entire arrest procedure, Bratton said. People without proper identification or people with outstanding warrants would be taken into custody, he said.

De Blasio said misdemeanor marijuana arrests disproportionately affect young people in minority groups in New York City. He said many job applications ask about arrests or convictions, but not summonses.

"We don't want to saddle someone who made one small mistake with something that will follow them all their lives," the mayor said.

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Masked Man With Sword Attacks Tow Truck Driver

By Jason Pohl | The Coloradoan

A Fort Collins man could face felony charges after he reportedly donned a gas mask and flak jacket and used a samurai-style sword to attack a tow truck driver Sunday evening.

A tow truck was called about 7 p.m. Sunday to Pier Apartments, 4501 E. Boardwalk Drive in Fort Collins, to remove a vehicle that was illegally parked and was blocking another vehicle, Sgt. Dean Cunningham said.

As the driver from H&K Towing prepared the truck for transport, 27-year-old Jeremiah Proctor came out of the building dressed in a gas mask, ballistic helmet and Kevlar vest, wielding a samurai-style sword, Cunningham said.

Proctor "swung the sword at the tow truck driver, sliced one of the truck's tires and tried to stab the driver," Cunningham said.

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Court Upholds 4 Same-Sex Marriage Bans: Will Supreme Court Review?

By Joshua Berlinger | CNN

A federal appeals court Thursday allowed four states to prohibit same-sex unions -- a decision that could force the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed lower court rulings in Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky that struck down same-sex marriage bans.

"When the courts do not let the people resolve new social issues like this one, they perpetuate the idea that the heroes in these change events are judges and lawyers," Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote in the ruling.

"Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue in a fair-minded way," Sutton wrote.

The ruling

Sutton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, said that it's not the responsibility of the judicial branch of government to make "such a fundamental change to such a fundamental social institution."

"Process and structure matter greatly in American government," Sutton wrote. "Our judicial commissions did not come with such a sweeping grant of authority, one that would allow just three of us—just two of us in truth—to make such a vital policy call for the thirty-two million citizens."

Judge Deborah L. Cook joined Sutton's decision, while Senior Circuit Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey dissented.

"This is a very important decision from the federal court of appeals in Cincinnati, which disagreed with every other circuit court that has decided this case so far," said CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin. "[The court said] there is not a constitutional right to same-sex marriage."

Daughtrey said that Cook and Sutton's decision read more like a piece of political philosophy than a court decision that grappled with a constitutional question.

"Instead of recognizing the plaintiffs as persons, suffering actual harm as a result of being denied the right to marry where they reside or the right to have their valid marriages recognized there," Daughtrey said, "my colleagues view the plaintiffs as social activists who have somehow stumbled into federal court."

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"Cold and Callous" Murders of McStay Family Solved, Authorities Say

By Michael Pearson | CNN

Almost a year to the day after an off-road motorcyclistfound the remains of a California family who had vanished from their home in 2010, authorities announced Friday they had arrested the man they believe is responsible for the deaths.

Charles "Chase" Merritt is charged with four counts of murder in the deaths of Joseph and Summer McStay and their two small boys, San Bernardino County, California, District Attorney Michael Ramos told reporters at a news conference.

Merritt, 57, was arrested Wednesday without incident in Chatsworth, California, Detective Chris Fisher said.

Police say they believe the family died of "blunt force trauma" inside their home north of San Diego, but they declined to discuss specifics of the deaths or a motive.

Merritt, who was a business partner of Joseph McStay's, appeared in court Friday but his arraignment was postponed until Wednesday. No bail was set.

In an earlier interview with CNN, Merritt said he received a phone call from Joseph McStay the night they disappeared, but didn't answer it because he was busy and tired.

"There are hundreds of scenarios," he told CNN at the time. "I have gone over all of them in my head. Of course I regret not picking up the phone."

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Supreme Court To Review Another Obamacare Legal Challenge

By William Mears | CNN

The Supreme Court will review another controversial part of the health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama.

The justices announced Friday they will look at one of the law's most fundamental provisions: tax credits that subsidize health coverage purchased on federal exchanges. The credits are a central element of the law in states that decided not to set up their own exchanges. If the Court rejects them, coverage could be upended for millions of Americans..

Oral arguments will be held next year, with a ruling by June. The Supreme Court upheld another key element of the law -- that individuals pay a tax if they don't sign up for health insurance -- in 2012. The latest cast comes as Republicans who will have full control of Congress next year are also pledging to repeal the law.

The legal argument involves a provision in the health care law that says people who obtained coverage through state-run exchanges can get federal subsidies such as tax credits. But the law does not specifically say that those signing up on the separate federal exchange also are eligible.

Opponents of the law contend that lack of specificity renders illegal the subsidies for anyone who enrolled through the federal exchange. Two federal appeals courts looking at the same issue reached opposite conclusions on the same day, back in July, creating a legal path for final review by the Supreme Court.

The political and financial stakes could be enormous, potentially gutting the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which passed with zero GOP votes.

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Adrian Peterson Pleads No Contest in Whipping, Avoids Jail

By Steve Almasy | CNN

NFL star Adrian Peterson pleaded no contest Tuesday in a Texas court to one count of misdemeanor reckless assault, avoiding jail time for whipping one of his children.

Peterson appeared in a Montgomery County court in Conroe after prosecutors and his attorneys reached a plea deal. Judge Kelly Case agreed to the terms of the deal, in which Peterson pleaded to a lesser charge.

The Minnesota Vikings star was sentenced to two years of probation, a $4,000 fine and 80 hours of community service, half of which will be taken care of by a public service announcement.

He also will take parenting classes.

Peterson gave a brief statement outside the courthouse.

"I truly regret this incident," he said. "I stand here and I take full responsibility for my actions. I love my son more than any one of you can even imagine."

He didn't address a question about when he will return to the NFL.

"We will review the matter, including the court record, and then make a determination on his status. We cannot provide a timetable," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, called the plea deal "fair and just."

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Boy Found Dead After Mother Says She Threw Him Off a Bridge in Oregon

By Holly Yan & Jason Hanna | CNN

A 6-year-old boy was found dead in the frigid waters of Oregon's Yaquina Bay after his mother told police she threw him off a bridge Monday evening, authorities said.

The body of London McCabe was found in the water about a mile from the Yaquina Bay Bridge about 10:20 p.m., roughly four hours after his mother called 911 to say she'd thrown him from the span, Newport police said.

The mother, Jillian Meredith McCabe, 34, was arrested on charges of aggravated murder, murder and first-degree manslaughter, police said.

McCabe, of nearby Seal Rock, called police around 6:30 p.m. Monday "saying she threw her child over the side," Newport Police Chief Mark Miranda said.

The water of Yaquina Bay is more than 100 feet below the bridge. Chances of survival from a fall that high were "minimal," Miranda said.

Even if a person survived the fall, the chief said, one could survive the frigid water for only about 20 minutes.

Police have not commented on the cause of the boy's death or a possible motive.

McCabe was being held at the Lincoln County jail Tuesday morning with bail set at $750,000.

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Background Photo Credit: Kasia Broussalian © 2015