- - Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Court: No gay nuptials with appeal

SAN FRANCISCO | A federal appeals court on Wednesday refused to allow gay marriages in California while it considers the constitutionality of the state’s ban.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris had joined gay marriage proponents in urging the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift a stay that had been placed on a lower court’s ruling to strike down Proposition 8.

In a letter to the court earlier this month, Ms. Harris said sponsors of Proposition 8 were unlikely to prevail in their appeal. Keeping it in effect, therefore, was a fruitless violation of gay Californians’ civil rights, she said.

“The public interest weighs heavily against the government sanctioning such discrimination by permitting it to continue,” she wrote.

Lawyers for two same-sex couples had sought again to lift the stay after the California Supreme Court recently said it would take at least until the end of the year to consider a legal question asked by the appeals court in the case.

Proposition 8 sponsors denied that their chances of a successful appeal were dim and opposed the request to lift the stay.


Regulators: Funeral home can’t liquefy bodies

COLUMBUS | Regulators have blocked a funeral home from using a new cremation alternative that dissolves bodies with lye and heat.

A spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association said Edwards Funeral Service in Columbus is the only U.S. business offering alkaline hydrolysis to the public, but that directors in other states are moving toward using the method.

The process turns soft tissue into a thick liquid that proponents say can be safely poured down the drain.

The Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has called it unauthorized, and the Ohio Department of Health last week issued a memo directing local officials not to issue permits or accept death certificates if the process is used.

Edwards’ owner, Jeff Edwards, told the Columbus Dispatch he has used the process on 19 bodies since January and is considering legal action.


Botched breath tests jeopardize DUI cases

PHILADELPHIA | Improperly calibrated breathalyzer machines used by Philadelphia police could mean that more than 1,000 drunk-driving cases dating to September 2009 are in jeopardy, law enforcement officials said Wednesday.

Some of the Philadelphia Police Department’s eight breath-test machines weren’t set up properly before November of last year, leading to incorrect readings in 1,147 cases, authorities said.

“We screwed up, folks,” police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told reporters at a news conference. “We screwed up, plain and simple, and now we are paying for it.”

Commissioner Ramsey said a defense attorney pointed out a discrepancy in test results last month, prompting authorities to examine the machines and check the readings against pending cases. More than 700 suspects had already been convicted using the faulty tests.

District Attorney Seth Williams said those defendants will be offered new trials, but noted that some cases will hold up without the tests if they’re based on other evidence, including blood tests.

More than 400 suspects who are awaiting trial will be informed that the breath tests will not be used as evidence, officials said.


Soldier pleads guilty to killing 3 Afghans

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD | A U.S. soldier has pleaded guilty to the murders of three unarmed Afghan civilians in a case that has raised some of the most serious criminal accusations to come from the war in Afghanistan.

Spc. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, entered the plea Wednesday to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use at Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle.

He faces a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison.

Morlock is one of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade charged in the 2010 killings of three Afghan civilians in Kandahar province.

According to a copy of his plea agreement obtained by the Associated Press, Morlock admitted taking a lead role in the plot to deliberately kill the civilians last year, even though they posed no legitimate threat.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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