- - Sunday, August 26, 2012

ILLINOIS

JOLIET — The judge at Drew Peterson’s murder trial exposed potential holes in the state’s case against the former suburban Chicago police officer, telling prosecutors Friday that they have failed to either place Peterson in the bathroom where his third wife was found dead or illustrate exactly how he might have killed her.

The issue arose as the judge blocked a bid by prosecutors to introduce testimony that Mr. Peterson once received stranglehold training that would have given him special expertise in how to kill Kathleen Savio, 40, whose body was found in her dry bathtub. Mr. Peterson, 58, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in her 2004 drowning death.

Prosecutors told the judge — with jurors out of the courtroom — that they intended to introduce testimony about how the former Bolingbrook police sergeant might have gone about killing Mrs. Savio by putting her in stranglehold. Judge Edward Burmila responded that it appeared they were trying to get jurors to speculate.

“You can’t be serious,” he balked. “You don’t even have any evidence linking him to the scene. Now you want to say this is what he did there?”

Prosecutors did not appear poised to address that potential weakness, indicating Friday that they likely would not call any more witnesses before they rest their case Monday morning. They appear to hold out hope that their circumstantial case, which included witnesses who testified Mr. Peterson repeatedly threatened Mrs. Savio, was strong enough.

Prosecutors had said earlier they expected to rest Friday after calling more than 30 witnesses over four weeks. But arguments over the admissibility of evidence caused repeated delays.

OHIO

Trial set in hair-cutting attacks on Amish

TOLEDO — Sixteen members of a breakaway Amish group accused of hair-cutting attacks against members of their own faith in Ohio are set to go on trial this week in Cleveland.

The group’s leader and several family members are among those charged with hate crimes in what prosecutors say were attacks motivated by religious differences. They could face prison terms of 20 years or more if convicted.

The group split from another Amish settlement in Ohio nearly two decades ago following a dispute over religious differences.

Those charged argue that the government shouldn’t get involved in what they call internal church disciplinary matters. The group’s leader denies ordering the hair-cutting but he says he didn’t stop anyone from carrying it out and defends punishing people who break church laws.

NEW YORK

Man recalls helping stop NYC gunman

NEW YORK — A construction worker who alerted police to a gunman who shot a former co-worker near the Empire State Building says he was determined to stop the shooter from getting away.

Brian Dillon told the New York Daily News that he saw Jeffrey Johnson walking away into the Fifth Avenue crowd after Friday’s shooting.

Police say Johnson killed Steven Ercolino outside a building where they had worked together.

Mr. Dillon was working on a loading dock outside the Empire State Building when he saw Johnson pumping shots into the head of a man on the sidewalk.

Mr. Dillon followed the gunman and flagged down two officers. Johnson pulled out a gun and was fatally shot. Nine bystanders were wounded.

Mr. Dillon said he’s just glad he was there to help.

CALIFORNIA

Series of small quakes strike southern areas

SAN DIEGO — A series of earthquakes has rattled California, from rural Imperial County all the way to the San Diego County coast.

Paul Caruso with the U.S. Geological Survey said the first quake, magnitude 3.9, struck at 10:02 a.m. Sunday about three miles north-northwest of Brawley.

It was followed by a 3.4 quake about 90 seconds later in the same area near the southern end of the Salton Sea about 16 miles north of El Centro. Magnitude 2.2 and 2.0 quakes followed minutes later.

Preliminary USGS reports indicated that three quakes stronger than magnitude 5.3 struck within two minutes starting at 12:30 p.m. Mr. Caruso said the magnitude of those quakes have not been verified.

A sheriff’s dispatcher said there have been no reports of damage or injuries.

ARIZONA

Grand Canyon Skywalk developer wins $28M judgment

FLAGSTAFF — An arbitrator has awarded a Las Vegas developer about $28 million in a contract dispute over the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

But the tribe that owns the glass bridge that gives visitors a view of the Colorado River through the canyon contends the judgment is not enforceable.

A federal court ultimately will decide whether David Jin is entitled to the money.

A business arm of the Hualapai Tribe says the American Arbitration Association lacks jurisdiction, and the tribe declined to participate in a July hearing. It also says the proceeding was unnecessary because the tribe already had severed Mr. Jin’s interest in the Skywalk.

Mr. Jin is fighting that action in court. His attorney, Mark Tratos, says it’s clear through a management agreement that disputes go to arbitration.

TEXAS

Man freed after DNA clears him of 1988 rape

FORT WORTH — A man who spent more than two decades behind bars was freed Friday after DNA evidence cleared him in the rape of a 14-year-old Fort Worth girl.

David Lee Wiggins was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1989, although neither of the two fingerprints found at the scene matched his. The girl, whose face was covered during most of the attack, picked Mr. Wiggins out of a photo lineup and then a live lineup, saying he looked familiar.

But DNA testing earlier this month excluded Mr. Wiggins as the person who committed the crime. Tarrant County prosecutors said DNA evidence demonstrated his innocence.

State District Judge Louis Sturns in Fort Worth freed Mr. Wiggins on a personal bond after approving a motion to overturn his conviction. Before the crime is officially cleared from his record, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must accept the judge’s recommendation or the governor must grant a pardon. Either step is considered a formality after the judge’s ruling.

NEVADA

$77 million fund created for air race victims

RENO — Organizers of the Reno National Championship Air Races have established a $77 million fund to be distributed to those who suffered injuries or lost family members in last year’s mass-casualty crash in Nevada.

Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw a federal compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, will be the new fund’s administrator.

Organizers say the program is designed to provide claimants prompt compensation while avoiding the costs and delays associated with lawsuits.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported compensation will be based on categories of injuries, ranging from $15,000 for bruises and cuts to $75,000 for major injuries that involved surgery or third-degree burns.

A modified World War II P-51 Mustang crashed last September at the air races, killing 11 people and injuring about 70 others.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports