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American Scene: Appeals judges back lawyer’s decade jail term

- - Wednesday, February 29, 2012

NEW YORK — Federal appeals judges in New York appear supportive of a judge's decision to quadruple the prison sentence of a lawyer convicted of aiding a terrorist organization after she said she could serve the time "standing on my head."

Judges of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were skeptical Wednesday of arguments made on behalf of disbarred civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart.

The judges are considering whether she was punished for speech protected by the First Amendment. Her comments came after she was sentenced in 2006 to more than two years in prison. The trial judge quadrupled her sentence to 10 years.

The same three-judge panel in 2009 said it had "serious doubts" the original sentence was sufficient.

TEXAS

No runoff for woman seeking yell leader position

COLLEGE STATION — Samantha Ketcham's quest to become Texas A&M's first female yell leader ended abruptly Wednesday when the university's election commission said no runoff would be needed.

Miss Ketcham was hoping to be elected to the five-member group, which A&M has instead of cheerleaders. It has always been comprised of men at the formerly all-male military institution.

The commission released results Tuesday night that showed Nelson Ingram had been elected senior yell leader, with Miss Ketcham and three other students facing a runoff for the two remaining positions.

Instead, the commission said "the percentages were tabulated incorrectly.

OHIO

School shooting suspect says he stole uncle's gun

CHARDON — An official says the teenage suspect in the deadly Ohio school shooting told authorities he stole the gun he used from his uncle.

A law enforcement official familiar with the case says the weapon was bought legally in August 2010 from a gun shop in Mentor, Ohio. The official says the gun was a Ruger .22-caliber Mark III target pistol.

The official spoke to the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

Seventeen-year-old T.J. Lane is suspected of opening fire in the cafeteria at Chardon High School on Monday. Three students died and two were wounded.

WEST VIRGINIA

Ex-security chief gets 3 years in mine blast

BECKLEY — A former security chief convicted of lying to investigators about the April 2010 explosion that killed 29 men at a southern West Virginia coal mine was sentenced to three years in prison Wednesday.

Hughie Elbert Stover was convicted of lying to investigators and ordering a subordinate to destroy thousands of security-related documents at the Upper Big Branch mine following the worst U.S. coal mine disaster in four decades.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin had sought a 25-year sentence, hoping to send a resounding message about Stover's crimes following the explosion.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for a total sentence of about three years for both crimes. Judges do not have to follow the guidelines.

Witnesses testified that Stover instructed mine guards to send out radio alerts whenever inspectors entered the property, which is illegal. Stover denied the claims in a November 2010 interview with investigators.

The second count alleged Stover sought to destroy documents in January 2011 by ordering a subordinate to bag them and then throw them into an on-site trash compactor, which is also illegal. Massey Energy, which owned the mine at the time, repeatedly warned employees to keep all records while the disaster remained under investigation. Company officials told investigators of the trashed documents, which were recovered.

Defense attorney William D. Wilmoth said Stover's actions were innocent mistakes and he deserved no jail time.

CALIFORNIA

Snowstorm creates Sierra avalanche threat

TRUCKEE — Officials issued avalanche warnings Wednesday as the biggest California storm of a dry winter season kept hammering the northern Sierra Nevada.

High winds, intense snowfall and a weak snowpack combined to create dangerous conditions, the Sierra Avalanche Center advisory said. It recommended that skiers stay out of avalanche terrain.

The storm has dropped visibility to a quarter-mile or less on Interstate 80, forcing Caltrans to require chains and impose a 30 mph speed limit from Colfax to 11 miles east of the Nevada state line.

The first big storm arrived late in the season but brightened the state's water outlook heading into spring.

"It's nothing we haven't faced before. Just not this year," said Caltrans spokesman Rochelle Jenkins.

The National Weather Service said the snow level had dropped to 3,000 feet in the northern Sierra Nevada. Snow fell at the rate of 1 inch each hour, and forecasters expected at least 8 more inches into Thursday. Winds gusted to 50 mph.

Sunny skies were expected through the weekend.

From wire dispatches and staff reports