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Wednesday
Oct062010

Westboro Baptist Church Goes to the Supreme Court

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The attorney representing members of a Topeka, Kan. church argued before the U.S. Supreme Court Wednesday that carrying offensive signs and demonstrating outside of military funerals is protected speech under the First Amendment.

Margie J. Phelps, the lead counsel for the Westboro Baptist Church and the daughter of the church's pastor, Fred Phelps, told the justices that her group pickets funerals with "great circumspection and awareness of boundaries" when it carries signs with offensive messages such as "God Hates you" and "God Hates Fags." She said the group files permits with police before every protest and stays in restricted areas, often hundreds of yards from the proceedings.

The case, one of the most controversial cases on the court docket, was brought by Albert Snyder, who sued the church after members picketed the funeral of his son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq. Later, members posted an epic poem on the church website entitled "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder." It was addressed to his parents and said in part, "They taught him to support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity."

Snyder won a judgment of $5 million, which was later thrown out by a federal appeals court which ruled the protest signs weren't aimed at Snyder specifically and said the statements are protected by the Constitution because they contained "imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric" meant to spark debate.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Snyder argued that the justices should reinstate the monetary award. "We are talking about a funeral," Sean E. Summers argued. He added, " If context was ever going to matter, it has to matter for a funeral."

The justices asked whether the signs referred to Snyder directly, and whether or not the funeral members, who were unable to actually witness the demonstrations because the demonstrators were kept 1,000 feet away, were even able to experience the protest.

Justice Antonin Scalia said at one point, "Simply to say you can have a protest within a certain distance is not to say you can have a protest within a certain distance that defames the corpse."

Justice Samuel Alito posed a hypothetical regarding a mother who has raised a son who was killed in war, and while she's waiting to take a bus, she is confronted by a protester.

"And while she's at the bus stop, someone approaches and speaks to her in the most vile terms about her son. Is that protected by the First Amendment?," Alito asked.

Attorney Phelps dodged the question but then was pushed by Chief Justice John Roberts.

"What is your answer to Justice Alito's question? Do you think the First Amendment would bar that cause of action or not?," Roberts ask.

Phelps replied, "There would have to be a very narrow circumstance where it didn't, Mr. Chief Justice. That's my answer."

Justice Elena Kagan asked Phelps, "Suppose your group or another group picks a wounded soldier and follows him around, demonstrates at his home, demonstrates at his workplace, demonstrates at his church. Does that person not have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress?"

Phelps replied that non-speech activity could indeed give rise to a potential claim, but said that her group received permits and stayed within the permitted boundaries when they protested.

After the arguments, Albert Snyder appeared outside the court and, with emotion, read a statement, calling the day his son died, the "worst day of his life." His grief was compounded, he said, by being targeted by the church's demonstrations. "It is one thing no family should ever have to go through."

Margie Phelps spoke outside the court as well, and said, "There is no line that could be drawn here without shutting down speech." She told reporters, "You should all be thanking us for that heavy lifting we did in there."

The case has attracted a flurry of friend-of-the-court briefs on both sides. Lawyers representing 40 states which have passed laws regulating protests at funerals, have weighed in on Snyder's behalf.

"The States should be accorded their traditionally recognized police powers to adopt and enforce reasonable time, place, and manner regulations on activities that may disrupt funerals, and to define civil tort liability for conduct that intentionally inflicts emotional distress and invades sacred privacy interests," said the brief, written by the Attorney General Steve Six of Kansas, who was joined by the other states.

The American Civil Liberties Union, however, has weighed in on behalf of the free speech concerns of the Phelps and their church. In court papers, lawyers for the ACLU wrote the "First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion are designed to protect the right of speakers to voice their views on matters of public concern and to express their religious convictions."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Wednesday
Oct062010

Oil Spill Commission Blasts Obama Administration Response to Spill

Photo Courtesy - US Coast Guard via Getty ImagesPresident Obama’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, created through executive order on May 21, 2010, issued four preliminary working papers that include tough criticisms of the administration’s handling of the spills.

“For the first ten days of the spill, it appears that a sense of over-optimism affected responders,” one paper says. “Responders almost uniformly noted that, while they understood that they were facing a major spill, they believed that BP would get the well under control…While it is not clear that this misplaced optimism affected any individual response effort, it may have affected the scale and speed with which national resources were brought to bear.  In hindsight, some Coast Guard responders thought that their initial approach was too slow and unfocused.”

The report also says that the administration’s “estimates of the amount of oil flowing into and later remaining in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the Macondo well explosion were the source of significant controversy, which undermined public confidence in the federal government’s response to the spill.  By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.”

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

Lawyer for Rutgers Students Speak Out

Photo Courtesy - Stephen Michael Garey Photography(NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ) -- The two Rutgers University students accused of secretly filming Tyler Clementi in his dorm room just days before he leaped to his death have broken their silence to insist they did not bully Clementi.

A lawyer for 18-year-old Dharun Ravi, who was roommates with Clementi, issued a statement urging the public not to "rush to charges" against his client.

"Unfortunately, a life has been lost," said attorney Steven Altman in the statement. "Out of respect to Tyler Clementi's family, this is not the time for explanations of defenses or justifications to be made public by an attorney."

"In regards to statements made by the prosecuting agencies of their continuing investigation and whether to file bias charges against Dharun Ravi, I am heartened to hear that they are taking their time to learn all the facts before rushing to judgment. I can only hope that the public will do the same," wrote Altman. "I am confident that nothing will be learned to justify, warrant or support the filing of any bias criminal complaint."

Both Ravi and his alleged accomplice, fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, face several privacy invasion charges after allegedly filming Clementi during a "sexual encounter" in his dorm room with a man and then streaming it live on the Internet. If convicted, Ravi and Wei could each face five years in prison.

Copyright 2010  ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

Colorado Police Question Whether Abandoned Baby Craigslist Ad is Real or Hoax

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- A Craigslist advertisement with a graphic photo of a newborn and a threat to abandon the baby in a trash can has Colorado police both hunting for a possibly desperate teenage mother and investigating whether the ad could be a hoax.

"Desperate baby will die if someone doesn't pick it up," the advertisement's headline screamed in capital letters when it was flagged by a Craigslist user and sent to Colorado Springs police last week.

The ad contained a picture of the baby on what looks like blue surgical dressing, still covered in after-birth with the umbilical cord attached.

Colorado Springs Sgt. Steve Noblitt called the photo "pretty convincing."

"I'm a teenare (sic) mother who was kicked out from my moms and dads house because i was pregnant 9 months ago," the ad read. "i have just given birth and i don't know what to do with the baby,my bf will put it in the trashcan right in front of the apartments so somone can pick it up."

"I JUST DON"T KNOW WHAT TO DO!!!" the ad read. "please help my baby."

Noblitt said police were investigating the ad within 20 minutes of it being posted and immediately sent officers to the address provided on Craiglist. But they did not find an abandoned baby anywhere in the neighborhood.

"We checked all the trash cans and Dumpsters," he said.

They also traced the IP address from which the ad was posted, but the couple living at the corresponding home had no involvement and told police that they had been using an unlocked Wi-Fi signal, meaning anyone nearby could have used it to acces the Internet.

Three days later, on Monday, they were made aware of a second advertisement that again said a baby would be abandoned, this time in a park. Again, a police search turned up nothing.

"This ad, though, we don't know if it's connected to the first or what," Noblitt said. "It had the smell of maybe a copycat, but who knows."

"Bottom line," he said, "we went there and there was no baby."

Both cases have been turned over to the Colorado Springs Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Unit to be investigated as both a real threat and a hoax.

"It's our responsibility to treat it as if it's real," he said. "If we don't, we're not doing our jobs."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

Update: First Civilian Trial for Gitmo Detainee Delayed

Photo Courtesy - John Moore/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee has been put on hold.  Opening arguments were expected Wednesday in New York for the case against detainee Ahmed Ghailani, but in a blow to prosecutors, a judge has ruled the government cannot call its most important witness at the trial.  Court has been delayed until Oct. 12 while prosecutors decide whether to appeal.

Federal Judge Lewis Kaplan's ruling blocks the government from calling the man who authorities said sold explosives to defendant Ghailani.  Defense lawyers say investigators only learned about the witness after Ghailani underwent harsh interrogation at a CIA-run camp overseas.

Ghailani is the only Guantanamo inmate to have been transferred into the civilian court system.  If the trial ends with a conviction and heavy sentence, it could help the Obama administration's case for closing Guantanamo and bringing five alleged Sept. 11 plotters to New York to face trial, including 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Ghailani is not linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, but is charged with playing a key role in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  However, since his profile is similar to those involved in the 9/11 attacks, his case has been viewed as a test for civilian prosecutions of terror suspects.

Until recently, Ghailani spent years imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without legal protection, which could complicate the trial.  Fordham Law School's Jim Cohen says, "There's secret evidence for lots of different reasons and it's not clear how much secret evidence there will be in this case."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

Washington State Cops Scour Campus for Missing Student

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(BELLINGHAM, Wash.) -- A college student who earned straight A's and sent thousands of text messages to his family and friends each month has vanished in Washington, where authorities are scouring a university campus for the missing 18-year-old.

Dwight Clark was last seen in the early morning hours of Sept. 26 when he left an off-campus party at Western Washington University to go back to his dorm, less than a mile away, according to authorities in Bellingham, Wash.

"We are calling this a highly suspicious missing person (case)," said Mark Young, the public information officer for the Bellingham Police Department. "This has got us all very concerned as well as really curious as to what happened. We're more than just curious -- we're baffled by what has occurred."

Young said while authorities are not certain foul play is involved in Clark's disappearance, the series of details regarding the case are certainly cause for suspicion.

"Despite extensive searching, canine scent dogs, and numerous -- hundreds -- of volunteers, no evidence of any kind has been obtained to substantiate or indicate what happened to Clark," said Young.

Clark was seen leaving the apartment of a friend's house at approximately 2 a.m. on Sept. 26, There are conflicting reports about whether Clark had been drinking at the party, said Young.

About 40 minutes after he left the party, Clark sent what authorities are describing as a "phantom text," or a blank text message from his phone.

"Clark is a prolific text messager," said Young. "He sent more than 5,000 texts last month alone and he was always on his phone contacting and connecting with his mother and his girlfriend.  But this text had nothing written in it, it was a blank message," said Young.

A trace of the text showed it was sent from downtown Bellingham, which Young said was in the opposite direction from Clark's dormitory.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

Couples With Daughters More Likely To Divorce

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images (NEW YORK) -- Little girls may be sugar and spice and everything nice, but having a daughter might boost a couple's risk of divorce, according to census data.

Not only did researchers find that couples with sons are more likely to stick together, but they also discovered unmarried pregnant couples are more likely to have shotgun weddings if the baby was going to be a boy. They also found divorced mothers of boys are more likely to remarry and stay remarried. Does this mean that daughters are matrimonially risky and sons are marriage saviors?

Not so fast, psychologists say. In the original 2003 research on the topic, economists Gordon Dahl, from the University of California-San Diego, and Enrico Moretti, at UC Berkeley, found that couples with a first-born girl were about five percent more likely to divorce than parents of a first-born boy.

When there are as many as three daughters that difference spiked to 10 percent. Given that the researchers drew U.S. Census data from more than three million adults, it's likely this effect is not just a statistical fluke, but the hows and whys of this phenomenon are open to debate.

From one perspective, there could be something about boys that makes parents want to stick it out, either because they enhance marital relations or make the prospect of a fatherless home more frightening.

More recently, however, psychologists have debated whether daughters might make mothers more willing to leave a bad marriage because they provide social support that empowers their mom.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

 

Wednesday
Oct062010

Death for Petit Family Murderer Steven Hayes?

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW HAVEN, Conn.) -- The ex-con found guilty in the deaths of a Connecticut mother and her two daughters is now looking toward the penalty phase, which prosecutors hope will end in a death sentence.

Steven Hayes was found guilty Tuesday on 16 of the 17 counts he faced for his role in the 2007 home invasion that left Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, dead. He was convicted of six capital crimes, including murder and kidnapping, which make him eligible for the death penalty.

A jury will begin hearing arguments in the penalty phase on Oct. 18.  Connecticut has only executed one person, serial killer Michael Ross in 2005, in the last 40 years.

If sentenced to die, Hayes will join 10 others on Connecticut's death row.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

Wife of American Allegedly Killed By Pirates Defends Herself

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- As she held a memorial service for her husband, who was allegedly shot to death by pirates on the Mexican side of Texas' Falcon Lake, Tiffany Hartley addressed skeptics on both sides of the border who doubt her story.

"It's hard just to hear it," she told ABC News. "But I can see it from their point of view. I can understand why they might think that, but it's not true....I would never even think about hurting my husband.  I loved him."

Hundreds of mourners gathered in a south Texas church late Tuesday night to remember David Michael Hartley, the man who is missing and believed to be dead.

Hartley said she and her husband came under attack from Mexican pirates as the couple rode Jet Skis on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake, but Mexican authorities have said there is no evidence of a crime as described by Tiffany Hartley.

Hartley told police the pirates shot her husband in the head. The 30-year-old man's body has not been recovered.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Oct062010

First Civilian Trial for Gitmo Detainee Begins

Photo Courtesy - John Moore/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Opening arguments are expected Wednesday in New York in the first civilian trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee.  Ahmed Ghailani is the only Guantanamo inmate to have been transferred into the civilian court system.  If the trial ends with a conviction and heavy sentence, it could help the Obama administration's case for closing Guantanamo and bringing five alleged Sept. 11 plotters to New York to face trial, including 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.


Ghailani is not linked to the Sept. 11 attacks, but is charged with playing a key role in the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  However, since his profile is similar to those involved in the 9/11 attacks, his case has been viewed as a test for civilian prosecutions of terror suspects.

Until recently, Ghailani spent years imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay without legal protection, which could complicate the trial.  Fordham Law School's Jim Cohen says, "There's secret evidence for lots of different reasons and it's not clear how much secret evidence there will be in this case."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio