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Teen Shot In Missouri Had Struggled For Officer’s Gun, Police Say

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

An unarmed black teenager fatally shot Saturday by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., had been struggling for the officer’s gun, law enforcement officials said Sunday as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the police department.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar said the youth, Michael Brown, 18, allegedly struggled for a Ferguson police officer’s weapon in a patrol car before the officer fired several shots about noon Saturday. Witnesses have said the youth had his hands in the air as he fled the patrol car.

St. Louis County Police, separate from the Ferguson police, are handling the investigation, which Belmar said would be thorough.

“We are investigating this incident as we would any other shooting,” said a statement on the St. Louis County agency’s Facebook page. “There is no bias or favoritism applied as we are an outside agency and were not involved.”

The St. Louis County agency’s statement said: “The FBI will be contacted today and notified of the incident. If they choose, they may conduct a separate use-of-force investigation on this incident directly with the Ferguson Police Department.”

The officer who fired the shots has been placed on paid administrative leave and has not been identified. He has been on the force six years.

Belmar said Brown was shot “more than just a couple of times,” but it is unclear how many shots were fired.

Brown was walking with a friend in the middle of the street when a Ferguson police officer pulled up and tried to get out of his vehicle, Belmar said. Brown allegedly pushed the officer back into the police car, Belmar said.

Belmar said Brown entered the police car and a struggle ensued over the officer’s weapon. One shot was fired inside the car, Belmar said.

The fatal shooting occurred after the officer and Brown left the vehicle, Belmar said.

Witnesses’ accounts have differed from that of police.

Dorin Johnson, a friend of the victim, told the local Fox affiliate, Fox 2, that he was walking in the street with Brown when the squad car pulled up and an officer told them to get on the sidewalk.

“It was not but a minute from our destination and we would be off the street,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the officer didn’t get out of his patrol car, but reached “his arm out the window and grabbed my friend around the neck.”

Another witness, Piaget Crenshaw, told Fox 2: “I witnessed the police chase after the guy, full force. He ran for his life. They shot him and he fell. He put his arms up to let them know that he was compliant and he was unarmed, and they shot him twice more and he fell to the ground and died.”

After Saturday’s shooting, hundreds of neighborhood residents gathered to protest at the shooting scene. The crowd grew to as large as 1,000, according to local media reports. “It got heated very quickly,” Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson told Fox 2.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says it will seek a federal investigation. Adolphus Pruitt, vice president of the NAACP Missouri State Conference and president of the St. Louis NAACP, said two representatives from the Justice Department had arrived in St. Louis late Sunday.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said in a statement Sunday that Brown’s relatives had invited him to come to St. Louis “to assist the family in achieving a fair investigation and justice.”

While St. Louis County police held the news conference at the Ferguson police station Sunday, hundreds of protesters gathered, holding up their hands and saying, “Don’t shoot me.”

Protesters chanted, “We want answers” and “No justice, no peace.” Some carried signs saying, “Stop police terrorism” and “Disarm the police,” according to The Associated Press.

Brown’s mother told AP that she didn’t understand why the police officer didn’t subdue her son with a club or Taser.

“I would like to see him fired,” Lesley McSpadden said of the officer. “I would like to see him go to jail with the death penalty.”

A few thousand people gathered for a candlelight vigil Sunday night, AP reported, and some youths spray-painted “R.I.P. Michael” on the street.

AFP Photo/Whitney Curtis

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Iselle Weakens To Tropical Storm As It Hits Hawaii’s Big Island

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

Tropical Storm Iselle reached Hawaii’s Big Island and Maui early Friday morning, bringing heavy rain, strong winds, downed trees, and scattered power outages as the state also braced for a second storm on Sunday morning, a rare one-two punch for the islands.

Iselle, which has weakened from a Category 4 hurricane since Monday, is expected to continue traveling northwest to Oahu and Kauai on Friday and is expected to dump 5 to 8 inches of rain or more on Hawaii. Local meteorologists warned residents to stay vigilant as the slow-moving storm has the potential to bring damaging flash floods and road closures.

“Iselle so far has kind of parked itself over the Big Island,” said Lt. Col. Charles Anthony of the Hawaii National Guard. As of 3 a.m. local time, Iselle was 40 miles southeast of Hilo, moving at 11 mph, according to the National Weather Service. It sustained maximum winds of 60 mph.

So far, the damage has been minor, Anthony said. There have only been a few reports of downed power-lines and trees and some minor flooding. No injuries have been reported. Heeding storm warnings, more than 1,200 people gathered at an evacuation shelter on the Big Island, according to County of Hawaii Civil Defense.

“Seems like everyone listened and hunkered down and we’ve been able to withstand the main effects of the storm,” he said.

The storm was weakening because of several factors, including wind shear chopping at the system and the Big Island’s terrain above the water, said Chris Brenchley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

But the winds and rain are strong enough that nearly all flights in and out of the island have been canceled. Public schools, universities, beach parks, and national parks in the entire state have been closed until the storm passes. All state offices are closed and will reopen on Monday.

Bruce Kim, executive director for the state Office of Consumer Protection, announced there is a price freeze on all commodities and any reports of price gouging will be investigated and, if substantiated, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent.

Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCarthy said that hotels are prepared to implement their emergency plans and guests are advised to remain at their accommodations.

Attorney General David Louie announced that state elections will proceed on Saturday as planned, although some polling places may change. Current weather forecasts do not indicate that voting will be adversely affected, but officials are watching the storm closely.

Hawaii Electric Light Co. said it had about 5,000 customers without power. Maui County said that due to a power outage at the Olinda Water Treatment plant, around 700 customers were advised to conserve water.

Hurricane Julio, which has been traveling close behind Iselle, is now a Category 3 hurricane, sustaining maximum winds of 120 mph. Julio is expected to veer north of the Big Island, bringing rain and strong winds to the island, according to the National Weather Service.

Julio was last reported to be 970 miles southeast of Hilo and is moving northwest at 16 mph.

AFP Photo

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Hawaii Residents, Tourists Hunker Down For Possibility Of Two Big Storms

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

As Hurricanes Iselle and Julio headed toward Hawaii, Stan Lawrence boarded up his surf shop in downtown Hilo.

“It’s safer to be closed,” Lawrence said Thursday morning, although the sun was shining. Later, the rain began.

The last time a hurricane hit the state was in 1992, when Iniki veered past the Big Island and pummeled Kauai, killing six people and destroying 1,400 homes.

“Hurricanes are unpredictable,” said Lawrence, who grew up in Santa Monica and moved to Hawaii in the 1970s. “They’re like traveling bombs.”

Iselle, a Category 1 hurricane, was reported to be 90 miles east-southeast of Hilo and moving toward the Big Island at 17 mph. Coastal areas were bracing for heavy rain, wind, and flash flooding. Tropical storm conditions were expected to spread to Maui on Thursday night and to Oahu and Kauai on Friday.

Julio, the trailing storm, was expected to hit over the weekend or early next week, according to the National Weather Service. A Category 3 hurricane with maximum winds of 115 mph, Julio was 1,060 miles east of Hilo and moving at 16 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

Officials warned the public to get ready.

“We’re prepared for an immediate response and we have a recovery plan,” Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said at a Thursday news conference. “I want to assure everyone on the Big Island, Maui, and elsewhere that whatever needs to be done, we’re prepared to do it. Response will be immediate.”

According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, there are about 94,000 visitors on average on any given day on Oahu, 55,000 in Maui, 41,000 on the Big Island, and 25,000 in Kauai.

All beach parks in the state were closed, along with Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, officials said.

Mary Roblee owns the Ala Kai Bed and Breakfast, about 400 feet from the ocean in Hilo. She expects Iselle and Julio to be “by far the worst” storms she has experienced in her 10 years on the Big Island.

“We’re very worried,” she said. “We are prepared to evacuate if we have to.”

The National Weather Service was predicting winds of more than 40 mph, with gusts reaching 55 mph, to begin spreading early Friday. Swells were expected to reach 10 to 15 feet by Thursday night. Heavy rainfall between 4 and 7 inches was expected.

Hawaii’s Department of Education announced that all public schools were closed and would remain closed Friday. Some schools would serve as emergency shelters, officials said.

Hawaiian Airlines waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who wanted to alter their travel plans because of the hurricanes, according to the airline’s web site.

American Airlines, Island Air, Mokulele, United Airlines, and U.S. Airways all announced flight cancellations, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Caroline Sluyter, spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Transportation, said that although the Hilo airport remained open as of midday, its personnel were preparing as though “you were preparing your home.” That meant tying down loose objects outside, such as small general aviation planes, and testing generators, she said.

“Hilo gets a lot of rain anyway,” Sluyter said. “So heavy rains at Kona may be more detrimental.”

Kona is on the island’s western shore, the opposite side from Hilo.

AFP Photo

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Quake Hits As Hawaii Braces For Hurricanes

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

As Hawaii braced Thursday for two hurricanes — which would be the first to hit the state in 22 years — a magnitude 4.5 earthquake shook Waimea on the eastern shore of the Big Island, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said some areas may have experienced shaking, but no tsunami was expected. The earthquake hit at a depth of 7.9 miles.

There were no reports of damage from the 6:24 a.m. temblor, but the news heightened the concerns of island residents, who have been stocking up on food and water in anticipation of the approaching storms.

Category 1 Iselle is expected to hit Thursday evening local time and Category 2 Julio, which is traveling closely behind Iselle, is expected to hit over the weekend or early next week, the National Weather Service said.

Iselle was last reported to be 300 miles southeast of Hilo and moving toward the Big Island at a speed of 18 mph. It is expected to bring heavy rains, winds gusting up to 90 mph, and flash flooding in coastal areas. Tropical storm conditions are expected to spread to Maui on Thursday night and to Oahu and Kauai on Friday.

Hurricane Julio had maximum winds of 100 mph, forecasters said, and was about 1,230 miles southeast of Hilo.

Mary Roblee, owner of the Ala Kai Bed and Breakfast in Hilo, located about 400 feet from the ocean in the Puna Peninsula, said that in her 10 years on the Big Island, she expects these two storms to be “by far, the worst.”

“We’re very worried,” she said. “We are prepared to evacuate if we have to.”

She said a storm six months ago with 50-mph winds took out the shingles on her roof, and that she fears her roof will be completely destroyed by Iselle’s winds, let alone Julio’s.

Roblee said all her family’s outdoor furniture on her wraparound porch has been secured, and that she has stocked up on food, water, and other essentials. She said the local grocery store was “totally jammed and absolutely outrageous” on Tuesday.

Iselle is expected to hit Hawaii’s Big Island and Maui first, though “there is still some uncertainty in the exact track and strength” of the storm, the National Weather Service said.

The Big Island is under a hurricane warning, while Maui and Oahu are under tropical storm watches. A tropical storm warning was also issued for Kauai, state officials said. Public schools are closed on the Big Island, Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.

Roblee said that if she needs to evacuate, she’ll go to a friend’s house or to one of two local high schools that have been stocked and prepared for evacuees.

Roblee said her inn currently has four guests, all but one of whom have rescheduled their flights to leave earlier to avoid the storms.

Hawaiian Airlines waived reservation change fees and fare differences for passengers who wanted to alter their travel plans because of the hurricanes, according to the airline’s website.

On the other side of the Big Island, in Kona, Mary Dahlager, owner of Hale Ho’ola Bed and Breakfast, said they’ve never had a hurricane on that side of the island in the 12 years she’s been there.

“We’re all paying attention to the weather, but we’re not overreacting,” Dahlager said.

Nevertheless, stores in Kona were mobbed with people buying water and toilet paper, she said.

“Even my yoga studio is closed, but I think it’s just a precaution,” she said. “There are always severe storm warnings and we just say ‘ho hum.'”

Hawaii hasn’t been hit hard by a hurricane since 1992, when Hurricane Iniki pummeled the island of Kauai, killing six people.

AFP Photo

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Federal Appeals Panel To Hear Six Gay Marriage Cases From Four States

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati will hear arguments Wednesday afternoon from six same-sex marriage cases that have worked their way up from lower cases in four states.

In all of the six cases, judges in lower courts have affirmed gay rights by either striking down state bans on gay marriage or requiring state governments to recognize the rights of gay couples who were married in states where such marriages are legal.

In two of the cases, Cincinnati’s 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will have to decide whether to uphold same-sex marriage bans in Michigan and Kentucky that were approved by voters in 2004. In the four other cases, the court will rule on whether Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky should have to recognize the rights of same-sex couples who were married in different states, where gay marriages are legal.

The three-judge panel hearing the cases in Cincinnati is made up of Jeffrey Sutton and Deborah Cook, both appointed by President George W. Bush, and Martha Craig Daughtrey, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

Kentucky has two cases — one filed by three couples last year seeking to have their marriages recognized by the state, which was affirmed by U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in July; and the second will look at the state’s ban on gay marriage, which was struck down by the same judge in February. Both rulings are on hold pending appeal.

Michigan’s case challenging its gay marriage ban stems from one lesbian couple who was unable to jointly adopt their three children under state law. The state’s ban was struck down by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman in March.

Ohio also has two cases. Both involve the recognition of marriage rights for couples who were married out of state. One involves two gay men who sued to be listed as the surviving spouses on their dying husbands’ death certificates. In the other lawsuit, three lesbian and one gay couple sued for the right for both spouses to be on their children’s birth certificates. U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black ruled against the state in both cases in December and April, but the orders were stayed pending appeal.

In Tennessee, three same-sex couples sued to be recognized on their children’s birth certificates. In March, U.S. District Court Judge Aleta Trauger issued an injunction against the state from enforcing the gay marriage ban against the three couples, who were married in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

Montana Judge Publicly Reprimanded For Comments About Rape Victim

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

The Montana Supreme Court publicly reprimanded a Billings judge for his comments that a 14-year-old rape victim was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her rapist when he sentenced the offender to 31 days in prison.

District Judge G. Todd Baugh appeared Tuesday afternoon for censure — a rare public declaration by the state’s Supreme Court that he is guilty of misconduct.

Montana Chief Justice Mike McGrath told Baugh that through his “inappropriate comments” he has “eroded public confidence in the judiciary and created an appearance of impropriety,” according to court filings.

The Supreme Court also suspended Baugh for 31 days, effective in December.

Baugh sent Stacey Dean Rambold to prison for just 31 days last year after he pleaded guilty to sexual intercourse without consent.

Rambold was a 47-year-old teacher at Billings Senior High School at the time of the 2007 rape. He had pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent and had been kicked out of a sexual offender treatment program for breaking rules.

The victim, one of his students, committed suicide before the case went to trial.

Baugh retroactively tried to change the sentence to toughen the terms. But the state prosecutors filed a complaint against Baugh and appealed the sentence as illegal because Montana requires a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for such a conviction, prosecutor Malin Steams Johnsons. In addition, according to state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse, Johnson had said.

The Montana Supreme Court blocked Baugh’s attempt to change the sentence and ordered a new sentencing by a different judge. Rambold, who completed the Baugh-ordered incarceration last fall, is scheduled to face that judge Sept. 26.

Photo: jimmywayne via Flickr

Missouri Executes Sixth Inmate This Year After Legal Battle

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

Missouri executed John Middleton on Wednesday night after two days of legal efforts to prevent it. He was pronounced dead at 7:06 p.m. local time.

The state’s sixth execution of the year came the same day that a federal judge in California ruled that state’s death penalty unconstitutional.

“Twenty years ago, John Middleton murdered three people out of fear they would expose him as the drug dealer he was,” said Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in a statement. “He received the death penalty for each of his three murders. This evening, Mr. Middleton paid the ultimate price for his choices.”

Middleton was a meth dealer in Missouri in the 1990s, according to court documents. He was sentenced to death for killing two men and a woman: Randy Hamilton, Alfred Pinegar and Stacy Hodge.

About 5 p.m., the Missouri Supreme Court denied Middleton’s petition to halt the execution. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon denied clemency. The U.S. Supreme Court then denied three petitions filed by his lawyers to stay the execution.

Middleton’s lawyers promptly filed a fourth request with the Supreme Court. That too was denied.

Originally, Middleton was to have been executed at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, but that was delayed by the series of legal measures. Missouri law permits a 24-hour window for executions, so if Middleton hadn’t been executed by midnight, the Missouri Supreme Court would have needed to set a new execution date for him.

Halfway across the country, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled on a petition by California death row inmate Ernest Dewayne Jones that California’s implementation of the death penalty violated the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

California has sentenced more than 900 people to death since 1978, but only 13 have been executed, Carney wrote in his decision Wednesday.

AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski

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Court Vacates Stay In Missouri Execution; Case Goes To Supreme Court

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

A federal appeals court lifted the stay of the execution of a Missouri death row inmate Wednesday, and defense attorneys immediately filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

John Middleton was originally scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry granted the stay less than two hours before the execution was supposed to take place, saying that Middleton made “a substantial threshold showing of insanity” that calls for a new hearing.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled Wednesday that the execution should go forth, but Middleton’s attorneys swiftly appealed.

Middleton was a meth dealer in Missouri in the 1990s, according to court documents. He was sentenced to death for killing two men and a woman — Randy Hamilton, Alfred Pinegar, and Stacy Hodge.

Missouri law permits a 24-hour window for executions, meaning if Middleton isn’t executed by midnight Thursday, the Missouri Supreme Court will need to set a new execution date for him.

Middleton’s lawyers contend he did not commit the murders for which he was convicted.

According to court documents, his lawyers said Tuesday that they had found new evidence that gives Middleton an alibi for one of the murders. They filed a petition to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, saying that on the day one of the men was killed, Middleton was being held in an Iowa jail 40 miles from the murder scene.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster argued against the claim, asking why Middleton would wait until the last minute to present such evidence on a conviction made decades ago.

“There is no plausible reason why Middleton chose to delay until less than 48 hours before his execution to bring this claim except to create an artificial time shortage so that he could argue for a stay,” the attorney general argued in the motion to vacate the stay that was filed Tuesday.

AFP Photo / Brendan Smialowski

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Intersex Fish Found In 3 Pennsylvania River Basins

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

Male fish carrying eggs — intersex fish — have been found in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna, Delaware, and Ohio river basins, a sign that the water may be tainted with chemicals, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The research found that two fish species, smallmouth bass and white sucker, were exhibiting the effects of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Intersex characteristics caused by hormones and hormone-mimicking compounds include immature eggs in male fish, the USGS said.

“The sources of estrogenic chemicals are most likely complex mixtures from both agricultural sources, such as animal wastes, pesticides, and herbicides, and human sources from wastewater treatment plant effluent and other sewage discharges,” Vicki Blazer, a research fish biologist and lead author of a study, said in a statement.

Blazer told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that any of these chemicals could affect humans, particularly those that come from human excretion and have hormones from things such as birth control. However, she said, the real danger for the fish is that they spend all of their time in the water and are continuously saturated in them.

The fish had to have been born with these defects, she said.

Estrogenic chemicals disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates the release of hormones like estrogen and testosterone. This interferes with the fish’s ability to reproduce.

Blazer and colleagues collected fish from 16 sites in the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Ohio river basins. Intersex males were found at every site where smallmouth bass were collected, and the severity of their condition was generally worse in places just downstream from wastewater treatment plants, the researchers found.

Bass seem to be especially prone to becoming intersex when exposed to estrogenic compounds, Blazer and colleagues said in the study.

The researchers also sampled white suckers and redhorse suckers. Redhorse suckers didn’t have any intersex characteristics, but the team found an egg cell precursor, or stem cells that could potentially develop into eggs, in the blood of some white suckers.

The most common hormone found in water and soil samples was estrone, a potent endocrine-disrupting chemical often found in sewage from wastewater plants and the manure of animals such as cows, chickens, and pigs, the researchers said.

“We weren’t expecting the issue to be as widespread as it was,” Blazer said. “The number of fish affected and the severity was surprising.”

Northern Virginia Rep. James P. Moran (D), issued a statement and called the findings “troubling” and “yet another example of the adverse effects on water pollution in this country and another reminder that lawmakers need to take chemical waste regulation more seriously.”

“We need to be conscious of the substances flowing into our water sources,” Moran said. “Our rivers and the wildlife living there are among our country’s most precious resources. It’s a shame to see them deteriorated at the hands of irresponsible human behavior.”

Blazer said reducing the use of pharmaceutical drugs and personal care products, such as fragrances, could help with the issue. She also said upgrading wastewater plant technology and fencing rivers so animals, such as cows, won’t excrete directly into the water would help.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Arizona Death Row Inmates Sue State Over Two-Drug Protocol

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

Attorneys for six death row prisoners in Arizona filed a lawsuit against state officials Thursday alleging “human experimentation” in executions.

Arizona death row inmate Joseph Wood, one of the plaintiffs, asked a federal court to stop his scheduled July 23 execution, protesting the state’s new two-drug protocol.

The 21-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court states the Arizona Department of Corrections plans to use midazolam and hydromorphone for the first time.

Since 2011, Arizona has been using pentobarbital for executions, but the state sent Wood’s lawyer a letter in April saying it was using this new combination because it can no longer procure pentobarbital, according to the complaint.

“I really think they’re making it up as they go along,” Dale Baich, Wood’s attorney, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “This type of review is necessary to ensure they’re complying with constitutional standards.”

The complaint cites the Jan. 16 execution in Ohio of Dennis McGuire that was the first to use this drug combination.

Witnesses to the Ohio execution said “McGuire started struggling and gasping loudly for air, making snorting and choking sounds which lasted for at least 10 minutes, with his chest heaving and his fist clenched. Deep, rattling sounds emanated from his mouth,” according to the complaint.

Ohio’s executions are temporarily on hold while a federal court reviews the state’s execution protocol.

The complaint also states that nearly one-third of the executions using midazolam have had problems, citing the executions of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma and William Happ in Florida. These executions went wrong in similar ways — the prisoner appeared to fall asleep but then started moving again.

The Arizona Attorney General’s Office said they were in the process of reviewing the complaint, and would not provide further comment.
Wood, 55, was sentenced to death for killing his estranged girlfriend and her father at a Tucson auto-body shop in 1989.

Two of the attorneys for this lawsuit also have clients in Oklahoma and were part of the lawsuit filed Wednesday against Oklahoma regarding its execution protocols.

Photo: x1klima via Flickr

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Methodist Minister Defrocked After Officiating At Son’s Same-Sex Wedding Wins Appeal

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

A Pennsylvania Methodist minister, who was defrocked six months ago after officiating at his son’s same-sex wedding, on Tuesday won his appeal to have his religious credentials restored.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer had been suspended for 30 days on Nov. 18, after a jury of Methodist pastors convicted him of violating church law. When the suspension expired, he was defrocked after refusing to promise never to perform another same-sex marriage. Three of Schaefer’s four children are gay.

“I’m just elated,” Schaefer said. “It was a victory for me, for the church and for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.”

A nine-person panel of clergy and lay members determined that Schaefer’s punishment was “unlawful” because revoking his credentials “cannot be squared with the well-established principle that our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.”

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the body that defrocked Schaefer, has not said whether it will appeal the reinstatement. If appealed, the matter would go to the Judicial Council, the Methodists’ top court.

“I intend to abide by the committee’s decision and return him to active service as an ordained clergy member of this conference presently,” Johnson said in a statement. “I also ask for continuing, supportive prayers for Mr. Schaefer, his family, and the members and churches of our conference and our denomination, as we struggle gracefully to find common ground.”

The decision means Schaefer can return to religious work and will retroactively receive his salary and benefits. Schaefer, 52, will be transferred to the Isla Vista Student Ministry in Santa Barbara to work for the California-Pacific Conference in July.

“Rev. Schaefer has much to teach us about what it means to love the children God gives us who happen to be gay,” said the Rev. Minerva Carcano, bishop of the California conference. “I pray that we will make space for him and his family in our lives and in our hearts as he comes to labor among us.”

The panel that heard Schaefer’s appeal Friday in Linthicum, Md., included members of denominational conferences from the Northeast.

Elizabeth Stroud, an assistant pastor in Germantown, Pa., was defrocked in December 2004 for announcing to her congregation that she was in a same-sex partnership.

Stroud appealed the decision to the church’s Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, the same panel that heard Schaefer’s appeal, and she won. However, her appeal decision was challenged, and she lost in the Judicial Committee.

Counsel for Schaefer, the Rev. Scott Campbell, argued that his defrocking was based on theoretical rather than actual behavior.

“The church is not at liberty to add a penalty based on what a person may or may not do,” Campbell said, according to the United Methodist News service. “The act of marrying his son was the only thing he was on trial for.”

Campbell called the “mix and match” penalties “an egregious error in church law.”

The counsel for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference, the Rev. Christopher Fisher, countered that the 30-day suspension was a “period of grace for Rev. Schaefer to discern his motivations,” according to The Associated Press.

“This is no minor thing,” Fisher said. “Schaefer stated he won’t abide by the (United Methodist Book of) Discipline, and demonstrated it by his unwillingness to obey the trial court.”

Carcano said that if Schaefer officiates at another same-sex marriage and a complaint is filed against him in her conference, she will have to comply with church procedures. However, she said she does not know of any complaints filed against clergy in the California conference for presiding over same-sex marriages.

In the six months since his trial and defrocking, Schaefer has become a symbol of the movement to change the United Methodist Church’s policy on homosexuality. He has spoken at more than 50 events, churches and colleges and received several awards, including recognition from the Massachusetts governor and the Pennsylvania Education Association.

The United Methodist Church had nearly 7.4 million U.S. members in 2012. It accepts gay and lesbian members, but rejects same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy and ministers, calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to its website.

The United Methodist General Conference is the only entity that can change church policy and lawbook language. At the 2012 conference, 69 percent of the global conference delegates rejected a proposal to eliminate the “incompatible” statement and replace it with language acknowledging differing opinions on gay issues within the church. The next meeting will be in 2016.

Since then, 15 regional conferences in the U.S. have passed resolutions in support of same-sex marriage.

In addition, since Schaefer’s defrocking in December, several complaints against clergy relating to the church’s homosexuality policy have been dropped.

In February, two pastors from Washington state, the Rev. Cheryl Fear and the Rev. Gordon Hutchins, received only 24-hour suspensions without pay for officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies.

In March, the trial of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired dean of the Yale Divinity School, was dropped. Ogletree presided over his son’s same-sex marriage in New York City in 2012.

In May, complaints against the Rev. Sara Tweedy of New York, who faced trial for being married to another woman, were also dropped.

Schaefer said Tuesday’s decision was a message from the church to the LGBT community.

“The longer I waited for the decision, the more pessimistic I grew,” he said. “But I won. It’s a message from the church that signals change.”

John Lomperis, United Methodist director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said he doesn’t believe the Schaefer ruling foreshadows a greater change in the church’s policy toward homosexuality. “This was not an official body saying the church does not have these standards,” Lomperis said.

In the U.S. there may be a movement towards inclusion of the LGBT community, but “our church is a global church,” he said. According to church statistics, roughly 60 percent of the United Methodist Church’s membership is from the U.S. Nearly 40 percent is from Africa, “where homosexuality is still taboo,” Lomperis said.

“Fundamentally, this is a profound crisis of identity,” he said. “And we’re risking our church unity for it.”

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

Methodist Pastor Who Performed Gay Son’s Wedding To Appeal Defrocking

By Maya Srikrishnan, Los Angeles Times

Frank Schaefer this week will be appealing the outcome of a trial last year that stripped him of his lifelong vocation as minister of the United Methodist Church.

The former minister in Lebanon, Pa., was suspended Nov. 18 for 30 days by a jury of pastors for officiating at the same-sex marriage of his son in Massachusetts. A month later, he was defrocked after refusing to promise to never perform another same-sex marriage.

He immediately said he would challenge the defrocking. Arguments will be heard Friday in Baltimore by the Committee on Appeals for the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, with a decision expected as early as Saturday.

“We felt very strongly that the penalty, my defrocking, was really not in line with the church’s law,” Schaefer said Wednesday. “What they based the defrocking on was a promise to not perform another gay marriage. You can’t punish someone based on something they haven’t done yet. You can’t defrock on a promise.”

Schaefer said he continued to devote himself to the Methodist church and would like to continue his life as a minister.

“I devoted my life to this church and I see great potential in this church, except the strong language against homosexuality,” he said. “This is a great church. And I have vowed, even when I was defrocked, that I would fight from within the church.”

He hopes that if the decision is in his favor, it will symbolize a greater change in the church. The proof of how harmful the church’s outlook on homosexuality is lies in his son, he said. The younger Schaefer told his father that he considered suicide before coming out to his parents when he was 17, because of the conflict he felt between his religious beliefs and his sexual orientation.

“I was silent for too long,” Schaefer said. “I will not refuse ministry to anybody based on their sexual orientation. We have to stop harming beloved children of God.”

Since his trial and defrocking, Schaefer has become a symbol in the movement to change the United Methodist Church’s policy on homosexuality. He has spoken at more than 50 events, churches and colleges and received several awards, including recognition from the Massachusetts governor and the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

He also wrote a book, “Defrocked,” that will be released this month by Chalice Press. A documentary film, “An Act of Love,” is being made about him — the crew has been following him around, he said — and a Philadelphia theater company is working on a play that will re-enact his trial.

About 5 percent of U.S. adults are members of the United Methodist Church, making it the second-largest Protestant denomination, according to the Pew Religion and Public Life Project. The church accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects same-sex marriage and does not allow openly gay clergy and ministers, citing homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” according to its official website.

As for his pending appeal and its decision, Schaefer said he was “cautiously optimistic” that he will be reinstated.

“We will call it a re-frocking,” he joked.

He said his optimism stemmed from several cases since his trial in which clergy and ministers across the country had charges dropped for issues relating to the church’s homosexuality policy.

In March, the trial of the Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired dean of the Yale Divinity School, was dropped. Ogletree had presided over his son’s same-sex marriage in New York City in 2012.

In May, complaints against the Rev. Sara Tweedy of New York, who faced trial for being married to a woman, were also dropped.

Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

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