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American Scene

- - Thursday, April 28, 2011

ALABAMA

Judge keeps charges in honeymoon death case

BIRMINGHAM | A judge declined Thursday to dismiss capital murder charges against a man accused of killing his wife during a 2003 honeymoon diving trip to Australia.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Tommy Nail denied motions to dismiss the charges against Gabe Watson, 33, in the death of his wife, Tina, 26. Defense attorneys asked the judge to throw out the charges based on double jeopardy, saying Watson already had served 18 months in an Australian prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.

Deputy Attorney General Don Valeska said the charges against Watson are different in Alabama and are based on the theory that Watson planned the crime in Alabama in hopes of collecting on a life insurance policy on his wife.

But the defense attorney said his client is being charged with committing the same crime. Double jeopardy is the act of trying a person a second time for a crime for which he or she has been prosecuted.

ALASKA

Illegal immigrant was bus driver, police officer

ANCHORAGE | A police officer in Alaska accused of being an illegal immigrant who stole a U.S. citizen's identity previously worked as a well-esteemed bus driver in the same city, maintaining an excellent driving record throughout his six-year employment.

The driver known as Rafael Espinoza left his job as an Anchorage city bus driver in 2005 to become a police officer here.

The Mexico-born officer's real name is Rafael Mora-Lopez, a discovery made after he applied for a passport renewal at the same time the real Rafael Espinoza did, authorities said. The real Mr. Espinoza has a dual citizenship and lives outside of the U.S.

Mr. Mora-Lopez, 47, was arrested last week and is charged with federal passport fraud, which carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence. He has pleaded not guilty and is out on bail under home-confinement and electronic monitoring.

CALIFORNIA

Navy captain loses command over misconduct claims

SAN DIEGO | The commander of a guided-missile destroyer has been relieved of command while the Navy investigates allegations of misconduct.

The San Diego-based Third Fleet said Cmdr. Jay Wylie of the USS Momsen was relieved Wednesday because of "loss of confidence in his ability to command." He was reassigned to a San Diego post.

A fleet spokeswoman, Lt. j.g. Beth Teach, said she didn't have details about the allegations.

The Momsen is part of Destroyer Squadron 9, currently in homeport in Everett, Wash.

Cmdr. Wylie is the second Navy officer removed from a command in less than a week.

Capt. Donald Hornbeck, commander of Destroyer Squadron 1 in the Arabian Sea, was removed Saturday while the Navy investigates allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship.

ILLINOIS

Priest suspended over proposed transfer

CHICAGO | An activist Catholic priest who made headlines when he mocked Hillary Rodham Clinton during her presidential campaign was suspended by the Archdiocese of Chicago on Wednesday because of a disagreement over a proposed transfer from his South Side church.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger recently said that he would leave the church rather than be removed from St. Sabina Church, where he has been pastor for more than 30 years. Cardinal Francis George earlier this year offered Father Pfleger the presidency of a Catholic high school near the church.

"If that is truly your attitude, you have already left the Catholic Church and are therefore not able to pastor a Catholic parish," Cardinal George wrote.

The cardinal said that while Father Pfleger has been suspended from his priestly duties, he retains the office of pastor while temporarily without permission to function.

Telephone calls to Father Pfleger for comment were not returned. However, in a statement read outside St. Sabina, associate pastor Kimberly Lymore said Father Pfleger has "given his life to this community." She said Father Pfleger is "upset," and "in shock, just as we all were."

NEW JERSEY

Sale of 'bath salts' drug banned

TRENTON | New Jersey has banned the sale and manufacture of synthetic drugs known as "bath salts," which are snorted and mimic the effects of cocaine and methamphetamines.

Citing an imminent threat to public safety, State Attorney General Paula Dow on Thursday announced that six chemicals found in the drugs will be classified as controlled dangerous substances. As a result, the manufacture, distribution, sale, or possession of the chemicals will be considered a crime punishable by three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Under state law, officials are allowed to reclassify certain chemicals to restrict their availability. Lawmakers also have a bill pending to outlaw at least one of the known chemicals used in the drugs.

Anyone who voluntarily surrenders the bath salts to police by May 8 will not face criminal charges, Ms. Dow said.

NEW YORK

Couple who split house with a wall get divorce

NEW YORK | A feuding couple who built a wall though their Brooklyn house because neither husband nor wife would give it up were granted a divorce after six years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees.

But the legal battles may not be over for Simon and Chana Taub, whom the media likened to Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner's warring spouses in the 1989 film "The War of the Roses."

Mrs. Taub is unhappy with the judge's order to sell the divided house, plus two others, and split the proceeds with her soon-to-be ex-husband, her attorney said. She plans to appeal.

Mr. Taub's attorney said Mrs. Taub has a history of filing frivolous legal actions.

OHIO

Man pleads guilty in abortion-gunpoint case

COLUMBUS | A man charged under an Ohio fetal homicide law for taking his pregnant girlfriend to an abortion clinic at gunpoint pleaded guilty Thursday to attempted murder, weapons and abduction counts.

Dominic Holt-Reid, 28, pulled a gun Oct. 6 on Yolanda Burgess and forced her to drive to the clinic, police said. Miss Burgess, who was 26 and three months pregnant at the time, did not go through with the procedure but instead passed a note to a clinic employee, who called police. She has since delivered a healthy baby.

Prosecutors brought their case against Holt-Reid using a 1996 law that says a person can be found guilty of murder for causing the unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said he was satisfied with the plea agreement, under which several charges were dropped. Weapons specifications attached to the attempted murder and abduction charges, which could automatically have meant more prison time, also were eliminated.

Under the deal, Holt-Reid faces up to 20 years in prison and a $40,000 fine. Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Patrick Sheeran ordered a presentencing investigation, and the next hearing was scheduled for June 9.

From wire dispatches and staff reports