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American Scene

- - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NEW JERSEY

Teenager charged with firebombing 2 synagogues

PARAMUS | An unemployed teenager charged Tuesday with firebombing two synagogues is an anti-Semite whose hatred of Jews guided his actions, authorities said.

Anthony Graziano, 19, of Lodi, was charged with the Jan. 11 attack on a Rutherford synagogue and the Jan. 3 firebombing of a synagogue in Paramus. He was being held on $5 million bail.

The charges include nine counts of attempted murder, bias intimidation, arson and aggravated arson. Mr. Graziano was scheduled to make an initial court appearance Wednesday morning.

Bergen County prosecutor John Molinelli and other authorities didn't speculate on what may have motivated Mr. Graziano. They described him as a 2010 high school graduate and loner who lacked access to a car but searched for nearby synagogues on the Internet and rode his bike to the two locations and, at the Rutherford synagogue, threw several Molotov cocktails and other incendiary devices before fleeing. If guilty, he is thought to have acted alone.

CALIFORNIA

Marine denies firing at Iraqi women, children

CAMP PENDLETON | A Marine facing sentencing for one of the worst attacks on civilians by U.S. troops during the Iraq War told a judge Tuesday in a surprise development that he never fired his weapon at any women or children.

The statement by Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich came a day after he pleaded guilty to a minor charge of dereliction of duty as part of a deal that will call for little or no jail time.

"The truth is: I never fired any weapon at any women or children that day," Wuterich said during his sentencing hearing.

Wuterich also said that his guilty plea should not suggest that he thinks his men behaved wrongly or that they acted in any way that was dishonorable to their country.

Wuterich, 31, led the squad that killed 24 unarmed Iraqis in assaults in the town of Haditha in 2005. As part of a deal that stopped his manslaughter trial Monday, Wuterich faces no more than three months in confinement for the lesser charge.

NEW YORK

Muslims' charges in park clash dropped

RYE | Fifteen Muslims on Tuesday won conditional dismissals of charges stemming from an amusement park disturbance that started when women were told they couldn't wear religious headscarves on some rides.

A Rye Town Court judge told the defendants their cases would be dropped if they stayed out of trouble for two months. Most had been charged only with disorderly conduct, but the charges ranged up to second-degree assault.

All the female defendants wore headscarves.

Some of the defendants said after the court session that they plan to file a civil rights lawsuit against Westchester County, alleging police brutality and racism in the disturbance. The county owns Playland Park in Rye, a national landmark, where the disturbance occurred.

Defense lawyer Lamis Deek said the defendants could have gone to trial and won acquittals, but trials would have been inconvenient because none of them live in Westchester.

Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment on why the dismissals were accepted.

About 3,000 Muslims were at Playland on Aug. 30, celebrating the end of Islam's holy month of fasting, Ramadan. Officials say Playland bans baseball caps, eyeglasses and other headgear on several fast rides.

CONNECTICUT

Kennedy cousin seeks sentence reduction

MIDDLETOWN | Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel on Tuesday again insisted on his innocence in a 1975 killing, as he pleaded with a three-judge panel to reduce his prison sentence of 20 years to life.

Skakel lawyer Hubert Santos, in Middletown Superior Court, argued the sentencing of Skakel after his 2002 murder conviction in the beating death of Martha Moxley was excessive. The two were teenage neighbors in wealthy Greenwich.

Mr. Santos repeated his claim, which has been rejected by other state courts, that Skakel should have been tried in juvenile court, where the maximum sentence for a murder conviction would have been four years.

Skakel, 51, a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy's widow, Ethel Kennedy, wore an orange prison jumpsuit as he spoke to the three judges, who are expected to issue a ruling in about two months. He was handcuffed and his legs were shackled.

CALIFORNIA

More charges filed in L.A. arsons case

LOS ANGELES | A German man was charged Tuesday with setting nearly 50 fires, mostly to parked cars, over the New Year's weekend that terrorized Los Angeles, authorities said.

A criminal complaint against Harry Burkhart, 24, was amended to include a total of 100 arson-related counts involving 49 fires in Hollywood, West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. If convicted, he faces at least 80 years in state prison.

The rash of fires left residents on edge between Dec. 30 and Jan. 2 as parked cars were torched during the night. Some of the fires spread to carports and nearby buildings, including a former home of '60s Doors rocker Jim Morrison. Another one of the blazes broke out at the Hollywood and Highland entertainment complex, a popular tourist destination bordered by the Walk of Fame.

The complaint said the arson was caused by the use of a device designed to accelerate the fire. Court documents revealed an incendiary device was placed under the engine area of cars.

There were no serious injuries or deaths as a result of the fires, but damages were estimated to be more than $3 million.

KANSAS

Oldest federal judge dies at age 104

WICHITA | U.S. District Judge Wesley Brown, the nation's oldest sitting federal judge in history, has died at age 104.

Judge Brown died Monday night at the Wichita assisted living center where he lived, his law clerk, Nanette Turner Kalcik, said Tuesday.

During his long tenure, the senior judge in Wichita repeatedly tried to explain why he had not yet fully retired from the federal bench.

"As a federal judge, I was appointed for life or good behavior, whichever I lose first," Judge Brown quipped in a 2011 interview with the Associated Press. How did he plan to leave the post? "Feet first," Judge Brown said.

He came to work at the federal courthouse every day until about a month ago when his health deteriorated, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten said. Judge Brown then had his law clerks bring work to the hospital and later to the assisted living center while he recuperated. His law clerks were with him all waking hours during the past few weeks.

Judge Brown was appointed as a federal district judge in 1962 by President Kennedy.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports