Court Round Up

Virginia: Fortune-telling family members face fraud charges  
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A Virginia family considered pioneers in their region’s fortune-telling industry is weathering federal insurance fraud charges against several of its members.

A U.S. District Court indictment alleges six people including Mitchell Marks, his girlfriend, his two sons and brother Steven Marks conspired to steal $16 million from life insurance companies.

Federal prosecutors say the scam involved policies obtained after healthy impostors stood in for older, sick family members and friends during the necessary medical exams.

Marks family members have operated as fortune-tellers in southeastern Virginia for decades. Some of the defendants allege that while they may be able to read palms and tarot cards, they’re illiterate when it comes to insurance policies.

Connecticut: Gunshot kills teen acquitted in stabbing death
NORWALK, Conn. (AP) — An 18-year-old acquitted in a Bridgeport teen’s stabbing death has died at a Norwalk hospital two days after he was shot in the back of the head.

Police say Amos “A.J.” Brown Jr. was taken off life support at 3 p.m. Sunday and died by the evening.

Brown was shot Friday afternoon while sitting in a parked car. No arrests have been made.

Last year, Brown was acquitted in the 2008 stabbing death of 17-year-old Tykwan Hunt during a melee in Norwalk that involved dozens of youths.

Brown said he acted in self defense after Hunt pointed a gun him. His father, Amos Brown, spent hundreds of hours interviewing people involved in the melee, convincing some to testify in his son’s defense.

Washington, D.C.: Feds drop case against mosque bookkeeper

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors moved to drop a fraud and theft case against the former business manager of the Islamic Center of Washington.

In court papers filed last week, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. moved to dismiss charges against Farzad Darui. The government accused the Iranian-born U.S. citizen in 2006 of stealing $430,000 from the mosque in a complex check scam. A 2008 trial ended in a hung jury.

Prosecutors did not say why they dropped the case, but recently told the court that they would not call the center’s imam, Abdullah Khouj, to testify in any retrial. Darui’s attorneys had challenged the imam’s truthfulness.

Darui claimed that Khouj told him to pay debts, living expenses of two women close to the imam and informants with money from a Saudi Arabian government-funded account.

Missouri: Public defender offices face caseload crunch
JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — Local public defender offices across Missouri are facing an overload of cases involving indigent defendants — but with little additional state funding available.

The Joplin Globe reports that the office serving Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties in southwest Missouri is in a state of “pending unavailability.” The Carthage office that serves the 29th and 40th judicial districts notified judges and prosecutors in February it was exceeding its caseload limit.

“We’re still above capacity,” said Darren Wallace, the district defender.

Thirteen other public defender offices in Missouri have issued notices of “impending unavailability,” including two — in Springfield and Troy — that have been certified by the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office as exceeding caseload limits and closed to new clients.

Wallace said the Carthage office is still opening cases for all approved applications, but its 15 public defenders are exceeding the recommended limit set by a Department of Justice national advisory panel for case hours per month.

“It’s really up to the courts to fashion a remedy that provides the accused person entitled to counsel with an attorney who has the time and resources to provide competent representation,” said Peter Sterling, general counsel with the state public defender’s office.

After Springfield announced in late July that it was closed to new clients, a Christian County judge ruled the office must represent eligible defendants who were charged with criminal offenses during the period when the office wasn’t accepting applications.

The judge said defendants who could not afford an attorney were having their constitutional rights violated by not being able to get a public defender from that office.

The public defenders will ask a state court of appeals to set aside that ruling, and Sterling said it will be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court if necessary.

At a meeting of judges, prosecutors and defenders earlier this year regarding the Carthage office, it was decided that some juvenile cases would be referred to private attorneys.

Even with that relief, the office has been operating above capacity, Wallace said.

“We’re not trying to make more money or get less work,” he said. “We’re trying to provide the services that need to be provided.”

The Missouri State Public Defender’s office received an additional $500,000 appropriation this year, but Gov. Jay Nixon held half of that back because of budget restraints.

The other $250,000 was used to hire additional support staff, Sterling said. He said public defender offices have been so understaffed that public defenders have been forced to spend much of their time performing routine office tasks.

Pennsylvania: Man seeks to withdraw plea in student’s death
READING, Pa. (AP) — An eastern Pennsylvania man serving a 20- to 40-year term is seeking to withdraw his guilty plea to a third-degree murder charge in the slaying of a college student almost three years ago.

Twenty-six-year-old Timothy Gearhart of Allentown was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in state prison two years ago in the September 2007 murder of 19-year-old Kyle Quinn of Warminster. Authorities said he used a wooden table leg to beat the Kutztown University sophomore after a fight at a local tavern.

Two other men, brothers Terry and Kenneth Kline of Allentown, were also sentenced to 20 to 40 years in the case.

Gearhart says in his Berks County Court appeal that public defenders did not represent him adequately. The Superior Court denied his initial appeal last fall. Prosecutors have declined comment on the appeal.

Pennsylvania: Man acquitted of criminal homicide in fatal shooting
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A man has been acquitted of criminal homicide and all other charges in a death at a western Pennsylvania bar where he worked as a doorman.

Forty-one-year-old Dane Brooks of the Homewood section of Pittsburgh was charged in the March 2008 shooting death of 22-year-old John Allen.

Police had alleged that Brooks shot Allen after he was denied entry to the Mac Can Do bar in Homewood.

But defense attorney Donald Turner told jurors that Allen brought the gun to the bar and had previously been banned from the club because he had a weapon. Brooks testified on his own behalf last week, saying Allen pulled a gun when he was denied entry, he grabbed for the weapon and it went off.

Jurors deliberated for less than three hours Friday before finding him not guilty on all charges.