National Roundup

Jury: LA schools must pay $6.9M to molested boy

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jury ruled Tuesday that the Los Angeles Unified School District must pay a boy molested by an elementary school teacher $6.9 million — among the largest awards in the history of the school system.
The decision comes as the district’s attorneys were attempting to quickly settle high-profile sex abuse suits involving nearly 200 plaintiffs stemming from Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who is alleged to have fed his students semen and has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct.
The jury found the district liable for the repeated molestation of the 10-year-old student in 2008 and 2009 by teacher Forrest Stobbe at Queen Anne Elementary School in the city’s mid-Wilshire district, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In September 2011, Stobbe pleaded no contest to lewd acts on a child and continuous    sexual abuse of a child under 14.
But the civil lawsuit was concerned only with the liability of the district.
Stobbe was a veteran teacher with a clean criminal record, but plaintiff’s attorneys argued that administrators including the school’s principal should have heeded complaints about Stobbe that preceded the molestation.
School attorneys argued that despite the horrible ordeal of the victim, there was no credible evidence known to the district that Stobbe posed a threat.
“We take our duty to protect our students seriously and are continually looking for ways that we can strengthen our screening and reporting processes to ensure that no child is ever hurt in this way,” said general counsel David Holmquist. “Although we can’t change what happened in this case, we remain committed to doing everything in our power to promote healing and improve trust with those impacted.”
The ruling was especially significant with the Miramonte lawsuits looming, setting a high bar financially and demonstrating a jury’s willingness to blame the district for the actions of a teacher. Berndt also had a clean record, but parents had raised concerns about the way he had photographed children.
“Some of the same issues in the Miramonte case are highlighted here,” said attorney Don Beck who represented the victim’s family in the Queen Anne case. “The same lack of monitoring teachers, the same lack of supervision that allowed these events to happen.”
District General Counsel David Holmquist said earlier this month that he hoped to settle all the Miramonte lawsuits and legal claims by the end of January, but some attorneys and plaintiffs have recently dropped out of settlement negotiations, and a Los Angeles judge last week lifted a litigation stay, allowing the cases to move toward court.

Woman pleads guilty in Franklin bust theft case

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A housekeeper has pleaded guilty to a federal charge in the case of a bust of Benjamin Franklin taken from a home in suburban Philadelphia.
Forty-six-year-old Mobile, Ala., resident Andrea Lawton pleaded guilty Tuesday to interstate transportation of stolen property for allegedly fleeing with the bust to Alabama in August. Prosecutors allege she had made plans to sell it.
Defense attorney Martin Isenberg says his client made a mistake. A second charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement; she faces up to 10 years in prison.
Police allege Lawton stole the bust from a home in Bryn Mawr because she had been fired. She allegedly told police it was valuable and wanted to get her boss fired.
Isenberg says the bust was damaged, but there is debate over how much it is worth.

Woman wants judge removed in murder case

EASTON, Pa. (AP) — A woman accused of killing her estranged boyfriend the day before they were due in court on a child custody matter wants the judge slated to hear her death penalty case removed.
Attorneys for Elizabeth   Collazo say Northampton County Judge Edward Smith should be removed from her case because he presided over the withdrawal of restraining orders the couple had filed against each other.
Collazo is scheduled to go on trial next month in the fatal shooting of Mark Werkheiser inside his Williams Township home March 15. The former couple had a court date the following day over custody of their four children.
The Express-Times of Easton reports Collazo’s attorney is arguing Smith’s previous involvement with the restraining orders gives him improper background knowledge.

DNA could back innocence claim in ‘93 ISU killing

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — A lawyer says another set of DNA test results strengthen the claims of innocence of a man who spent 13 years in prison for the killing of his ex-girlfriend.
The Illinois Supreme Court reversed Alan Beaman’s conviction in 2008 and he is seeking a certificate of innocence.
One of his lawyers, Karen Daniel, says the DNA results she was handed at a court hearing Tuesday “clearly advance” the case, which the state is opposing.
The (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported that she would not discuss specifics.
In an earlier round of testing in June, a vaginal swab taken from murder victim Jennifer Lockmiller contained no DNA from Beaman.
Lockmiller, an Illinois State University student, was stabbed and strangled in 1993.
The innocence petition could entitle Beaman to $170,000 in state compensation.

Judge sentences  convicted abuser 110 years in jail

MONROE, La. (AP) — A 35-year-old Monroe man has been sentenced to 110 years in prison for deliberately burning his girlfriend with a clothes iron.
The News-Star reports Allen Robinson was sentenced Tuesday by state District Judge Wendell Manning.
Robinson, arrested in 2010, was convicted in October of aggravated second-degree battery and second-degree kidnapping in what District Attorney Jerry Jones calls the worst domestic violence case he’s ever seen.
After taking into consideration the severity of the crime, Robinson’s extensive criminal history and his lack of remorse, Manning imposed the maximum sentence.
Alicia Freeman, the victim’s sister, said she was pleased with the judge’s decision to sentence Robinson to what is basically a lifetime in prison.?