News of the Weird
by Chuck Shepherd
Annals of Injustice
• Richard Rosario is in year 18 of a 25-to-life sentence for murder, even though 13 alibi witnesses have tried to tell authorities that he was with them—1,000 miles away—at the time of the crime. (Among the 13 are a sheriff’s deputy, a pastor and a federal corrections officer.) The “evidence” against him: Two “eyewitnesses” in New York City had picked him out of a mugshot book. Rosario had given police names, addresses and phone numbers of the 13 people in Florida, but so far, everyone (except NBC’s Dateline) has ignored the list, including Rosario’s court-appointed lawyers. As is often the case, appeals court judges (state and federal) have trusted the eyewitnesses and the “process.” (In November, Dateline located nine of the 13, who are still positive Rosario was in Deltona, Florida, on the day of the murder.)
• Pastor Walter Houston of the Fourth Missionary Church in Houston repeatedly refused in November to conduct a funeral for longtime member Olivia Blair, who died recently at age 93—because she had come upon hard times in the last 10 years and had not paid her tithe. Ms. Blair’s family had supported the church for 50 years, but Pastor Houston was defiant, explaining, “Membership has its privileges.” (The family finally found another church for the funeral.)
• A U.S. Appeals Court once again in September instructed government agencies that it is unconstitutional to make routine business-inspection raids without a judicial warrant. “We hope that the third time will be the charm,” wrote Judge Robin Rosenbaum. In the present case, the court denounced the full-dress SWAT raid in 2010 of the Strictly Skillz barbershop in Orange County, Florida, for “barbering” without a license. (All certificates were found to be up-to-date, and in fact, the raiding agency had verified the licenses in a walk-through two days before.)
The Continuing Crisis
• Disappointed: (1) Cornelius Jefferson, 33, was arrested for assaulting a woman in Laurel County, Kentucky, in October after he had moved there from Georgia to be with her following an online relationship. Jefferson explained that he was frustrated that the woman was not “like she was on the Internet.” (2) In November, an unnamed groom in Medina, Saudi Arabia, leaped to his feet at the close of the wedding, shocked at his first glimpse of his new bride with her veil pulled back. Said he (according to the daily Okaz), “You are not the girl I had imagined. I am sorry, but I divorce you.”
• The recovery rate is about 70 percent for the 1,200 injured birds brought for treatment each year to the Brinzal owl-rescue park near Madrid, Spain—with acupuncture as the center’s specialty treatment. Brinzal provides “physical and psychological rehabilitation” so that eagle owls, tawny owls and the rest can return to the wild, avoiding predators by being taught, through recordings of various wild screeches, which animals are enemies. However, the signature therapy remains the 10 weekly pressure-point sessions of acupuncture.
• Even though one state requires 400 hours’ training just to become a professional manicurist, for instance, most states do not demand nearly such effort to become armed security guards, according to a CNN/Center for Investigative Reporting analysis released in December. Fifteen states require no firearms training at all; 46 ignore mental health status; nine do not check the FBI’s criminal background database; and 27 states fail to ascertain whether an applicant is banned by federal law from even carrying a gun. (After an ugly incident in Arizona in which a juvenile gun offender was hired as a guard, the state added a box on its form for applicants to “self-report” the federal ban—but still refuses to use the FBI database.)
• Two high-ranking Hollywood, Florida, police officers were absolved of criminal wrongdoing recently even though they had intentionally deleted their colleagues’ names from Internal Affairs investigative records. Assistant Chief Ken Haberland and Maj. Norris Redding somehow convinced prosecutors that they were unaware the files were “public records” that should not be altered. The two are still subject to fines and restitution, but have been returned to administrative duty.
• (1) In October, Reynolds American Inc., whose iconic product is Camel cigarettes, announced it would ban employees at its North Carolina headquarters from smoking in the offices, relegating them to special smokers’ rooms. (Critics of the company noted that Reynolds has for years staunchly denied that “secondary smoke” is dangerous.) (2) In September, Guinter Kahn, the South Florida dermatologist who developed minoxidil (the hair-restoring ingredient in Rogaine), passed away at age 80. Dr. Kahn himself had noticeable hair loss, but was allergic to minoxidil.
• (1) The owner of a wine shop in Highgate, England, said the thief who robbed him in September somehow placed him in a trance so the man could pick his pockets—and then, brushing past him on his way out, the man brought the shop owner out of the trance. Victim Aftab Haider, 56, pointed to surveillance video showing him staring vacantly during the several seconds in which his wallet was being lifted from his trousers. (2) In October in Scotland’s Perth Sheriff Court, Paul Coombs was sentenced to 14 months in jail for a June home invasion in which accomplices conveyed Coombs’ threats to the resident because Coombs himself is deaf and does not speak.
People Different From Us
• Cry for Help: Calvin Nicol, 31, complained that he was obviously the victim of a “hate crime” when thugs beat him up in Ottawa, Ontario, on Nov. 1—just because he is intensely tattooed and pierced, with black-inked eyes, a split tongue and implanted silicone horns on his forehead. (Though “hate” may have been involved, so far “body modification” is not usually covered in anti-discrimination laws. However, Nicol suggested one legal angle when he explained that “piercing myself and changing my appearance, and making me look like the person I want to look like is almost a religious experience to me.”)
Least Competent Criminals
• (1) Three women, whose ages ranged from 24 to 41, were charged with larceny on Black Friday in Hadley, Massachusetts, when they were caught in the Wal-Mart parking lot loaded down with about $2,700 worth of allegedly shoplifted goods. The women had moments earlier begged a Wal-Mart employee for help getting into their car—because they had locked themselves out. (2) Michael Rochefort, 38, and Daniel Gargiulo, 39, were merely burglary suspects in Palm Beach County, Florida, on Sept. 25, but sheriff’s deputies’ case against them soon strengthened. While being detained in the back seat of a patrol car (and despite a video camera pointed at them), they conversed uninhibitedly about getting their alibis straight.
• In December, Florine Brown, 29, finally accepted removal, by the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, of the estimated 300 rats, grown from her initial three, inhabiting her house (with the familiar droppings and smell). “I just want them to go to good homes,” she said, comforted that a local rat “shelter” would take them in temporarily. “I really depended on the rats to get me by (bouts of depression).” (It turns out rat-removal is a slow process, since they hide. It took several days even to trap the first 70.)
A News of the Weird Classic (April 2011)
• The long-standing springtime culinary tradition of urine-soaked eggs endures, in Dongyang, China, according to a March (2011) CNN dispatch. Prepubescent boys contribute their urine (apparently without inhibition) by filling containers at schools, and the eggs are boiled according to recipe and sold for the equivalent of about 23 cents each. Many residents consider the tradition gross, but for devotees, it represents, as one said, “the (joyous) smell of spring.”
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