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Fraternity brothers due in court in pledge's fatal fall
Politics & Legal | 2017/06/10 17:21
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.



Trial court election changes considered by North Carolina House
Politics & Legal | 2017/02/20 14:11
Some Republicans are set on returning all North Carolina state judicial elections to being officially partisan races again.

A law quickly approved in December during a special election directed statewide races for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals to become partisan starting in 2018. Now the state House scheduled floor debate Wednesday on legislation extending that to local Superior Court and District Court seats next year, too.

Having partisan races means candidates run in party primaries to reach the general election. Unaffiliated candidates could still run but would have to collect signatures to qualify.

Judicial races shifted to nonpartisan elections starting in the mid-1990s in part as an effort to distance judicial candidates from politics. But Republicans today say party labels help give voters some information about the candidates.



State Supreme Court suspends Hawaii telescope permit
Politics & Legal | 2015/11/18 10:26
The Hawaii Supreme Court on Tuesday temporarily suspended a permit that allows a giant telescope to be built on a mountain many Native Hawaiians consider sacred.
 
The court granted telescope opponents' request for an emergency stay of the effectiveness of the permit until Dec. 2, or until another court order.

The ruling was issued as protesters were gathering on Mauna Kea in anticipation of blocking telescope work from resuming. Work has been stalled since April amid protests.

"Mahalo ke akua," Kealoha Pisciotta, a longtime telescope opponent and one of the plaintiffs challenging the permit, repeated several times after hearing about the ruling. "Thank God."

Telescope officials announced last week a crew would return to the site this month to do vehicle maintenance work but they wouldn't specify a date.

A representative for the project said that TMT will respect the court's decision and stand down until Dec. 2.

"The Supreme Court's decision will give all parties involved in the appeal sufficient time to respond to the motion," TMT spokesman Scott Ishikawa said in a statement late Tuesday night.

Gov. David Ige said he will be conferring with the attorney general and the Department of Land and Natural Resources to determine the state's next steps.

"They cannot legally do any work on Mauna Kea," said Richard Naiwieha Wurdeman, the plaintiffs' attorney who filed the emergency request late Monday after hearing news reports that telescope crews would be going to the mountain on Wednesday.



Court Halts Execution Of Tyler Woman's Killer
Politics & Legal | 2015/07/18 21:53
The Texas Court of Criminal of Appeals halted the scheduled lethal injection of Clifton Lamar Williams until questions about some incorrect testimony at his 2006 trial can be resolved.

Williams, 31, had faced execution Thursday evening for the killing of Cecelia Schneider of Tyler, about 85 miles east of Dallas. Investigators determined she had been beaten and stabbed before her body and her bed were set on fire.

In a brief order, the court agreed to return the case to the trial court in Tyler to review an appeal from Williams' attorneys. They want to examine whether incorrect FBI statistics regarding DNA probabilities in population estimates cited by witnesses could have affected the outcome of Williams' trial.

"We need time to look at this," said Seth Kretzer, one of Williams' lawyers. "No way we can investigate this in five hours.

"It requires some time, and the CCA saw that."

The Texas Department of Public Safety sent a notice June 30 that the FBI-developed population database used by the crime lab in Texas and other states had errors for calculating DNA match statistics in criminal investigations. The Texas Attorney General's Office informed Williams' attorneys of the discrepancy on Wednesday.

Prosecutors in Tyler, in Smith County, had opposed Williams' appeal for a reprieve, telling the appeals court the state police agency insisted that corrected figures would have no impact. Williams is black, and prosecutors said the probability of another black person with the same DNA profile found in Schneider's missing car was one in 40 sextillion. Jurors in 2006 were told the probability was one in 43 sextillion. A sextillion is defined as a 1 followed by 21 zeros.




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