- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

CALIFORNIA

Bankruptcy halts church’s trial

SAN DIEGO — The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a few hours before it was to go to trial yesterday in the first of more than 140 lawsuits accusing priests of sexual abuse.

The bankruptcy filing, submitted at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday, automatically halted the court proceedings.

In a letter posted on the diocese’s Web site, Bishop Robert H. Brom said the diocese made its decision because any damage awards in the earlier trials could deplete “diocesan and insurance resources” and leave nothing for other victims.

The diocese claimed in the filing $95.7 million in property holdings and another $60.4 million in liquid assets, including stocks, bonds and operating accounts.

San Diego is the fifth diocese in the nation to file for bankruptcy protection.

The trial that had been scheduled to begin yesterday arose from a woman’s accusations that a priest forced her to have sex in his parish office in 1972, when she was 17.

FLORIDA

Padilla competent for trial

MIAMI — A federal judge ruled yesterday that al Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla is competent to stand trial on charges of supporting terrorism, rejecting arguments that he was severely damaged by 31/2 years of interrogation and isolation in a military brig.

Mr. Padilla was in court when U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke announced her decision, but he showed no reaction.

“This defendant clearly has the capacity to assist his attorneys,” Judge Cooke said just hours after she finished four days of competency hearings.

Mr. Padilla’s attorneys had asked Judge Cooke to order that their client be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, which they contend stems from years of isolation and interrogation while in military custody as an enemy combatant suspect.

CALIFORNIA

Hilton’s car seized after traffic stop

LOS ANGELES — Police seized Paris Hilton’s $190,000 blue Bentley after the heiress was caught driving on a suspended license, and prosecutors vowed yesterday to ask a judge to revoke her probation for reckless driving.

A court determination that she violated the terms of her probation could result in her being fined or even jailed for up to 90 days, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office said.

She was pulled over on Sunset Boulevard in the city of West Hollywood at 11 p.m. Tuesday for driving without headlights, and her luxury car was impounded when police realized her driver’s license had been suspended, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said.

About five weeks earlier, the heiress was sentenced to three years’ probation for pleading no contest — the equivalent of a guilty plea — to alcohol-related reckless driving stemming from a September arrest.

FLORIDA

Air Force captain sentenced in rapes

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE — A military jury ignored an Air Force captain’s plea for leniency yesterday, sentencing him to 50 years in prison for raping four men and attempting to rape two others.

The sentence was delivered a day after nine Air Force officers serving on Capt. Devery L. Taylor’s court-martial jury found him guilty of all charges against him for drugging and kidnapping servicemen he met in bars. Taylor was dismissed from the Air Force and will not be eligible for parole for 20 years.

Earlier yesterday, the 38-year-old former hospital administrator asked jurors to consider a sentence of 10 years. His civilian attorney, Martin Regan, said Taylor had no criminal history and an outstanding military record in his four years of service.

“I want you to know how much I have loved being a part of the Air Force and serving this country. It has been difficult for me to be a part of the military and be who I am, which is a homosexual,” Taylor said in a statement read yesterday by a military defense lawyer assisting in the case.

GEORGIA

2 young women sought in robbery

ACWORTH — Georgia authorities yesterday were searching for two young women who robbed a supermarket bank branch, laughing as they held up a teller with nothing but sunglasses to disguise their faces.

The two handed a Bank of America branch teller a note demanding cash, smiled as they waited and then walked out with stolen money Tuesday, police said.

It wasn’t clear whether they had a weapon, police said.

Their images, captured on bank surveillance video during the 12:15 p.m. robbery, were released by police and led to several tips, Cobb County police spokesman Officer Wayne Delk said. Authorities have not said how much money was taken, but Officer Delk called it “considerable.”

Police said the two could be as young as 16.

ILLINOIS

Toxic chemical spills into river

BROOKPORT — Thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical spilled into the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky after a barge ran aground, environmental officials said yesterday.

Initial estimates were that about 3,700 gallons of a petroleum-based substance called cumene had poured into the water since the barge ran aground between Brookport and Metropolis late Tuesday, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokeswoman Maggie Carson said.

Authorities were trying to assess the severity of the spill and the hazards it could pose, Miss Carson said.

NORTH CAROLINA

Duke prosecutor denies wrongdoing

RALEIGH — The former prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case did not intentionally break ethics rules, his attorneys argued yesterday as they sought to keep him from being disbarred.

Attorneys for District Attorney Mike Nifong acknowledged that he made many of the comments that the state bar deemed misleading and inflammatory. But they denied that Mr. Nifong intentionally withheld DNA evidence from defense attorneys — the most serious of the ethics charges faced by the veteran prosecutor.

“A lot of people have been rushing to judgment on both the underlying case and this case,” attorney Dudley Witt said. “And after you allow someone to have a full hearing, I think you will find that he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Mr. Nifong’s attorneys made the statements in a 50-page response to the bar’s complaint.

Mr. Nifong turned over the case against Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans to state prosecutors in January, not long after the state bar claimed that he violated several professional conduct rules, including withholding evidence and lying to the court and to bar investigators.

OHIO

Special plates sought for sex offenders

CINCINNATI — Lawmakers in Ohio said yesterday that they want to force convicted sex offenders to use a fluorescent-green license plate on their cars so they can be identified easily.

A Republican and a Democrat in the state legislature in Columbus have joined forces to introduce the bill, which echoes measures in several other states that require convicted drunken drivers to use yellow, pink or red plates on their cars.

“The fluorescent-green license plate will make the most egregious sex offenders easily identifiable,” said Rep. Michael DeBose, Cleveland Democrat.

Police said the green plates would allow them to track sex offenders, who are required to register with the local sheriff’s office and are prohibited from living within 1,000 feet of a school.

PENNSYLVANIA

Principal charged with dealing meth

BETHLEHEM — A middle school principal was charged with dealing crystal methamphetamine after police found the drug in his school office.

John Acerra, 50, of Allentown, was arrested Tuesday in his office at Nitschmann Middle School in Bethlehem, where police said they found meth on his desk.

There was no indication that Mr. Acerra sold the drug to students, but he reportedly sold the drug from his school office after hours and on weekends, said Dennis Mihalopoulos, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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