National Roundup

 California

Former Marine’s AK-47 conviction tossed by court 
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A former Marine from Southern California has been released from prison after an appellate court overturned his conviction for possessing a chrome-plated AK-47 that may have belonged to a member of Saddam Hussein’s royal guard.
The Riverside Press-Enterprise reports the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that Joel Cleve Miller should have been allowed to present testimony from two witnesses, including his ex-wife, to back his claim that he was framed.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office hasn’t said whether it will seek a retrial.
The 42-year-old Miller served nine months of his two-year sentence for the 2010 conviction.
Prosecutors said the AK-47 came from one of Hussein’s palaces. The Hemet resident served in Iraq for 14 months.
 
Washington, D.C.
Trial opens in case of slain wife, journalist 
WASHINGTON (AP) — Opening statements are expected in the trial of a German man charged with murdering his 91-year-old wife, a journalist and socialite.
Albrecht Muth is charged with first-degree murder in the August 2011 beating and strangulation death of Viola Drath. Police say the killing took place inside the couple’s home in Washington’s posh Georgetown neighborhood.
Jury selection began Monday in D.C. Superior Court, and opening statements were expected Tuesday morning.
Muth is not expected to attend his trial. His self-imposed bouts of starvation have left him frail and weak, but a judge has ruled that Muth’s absences are willful and voluntary and that the trial can proceed without him. He’ll be able to observe through videoconferencing.
 
Mississippi
Ex-Miss. school superintendent reports to prison 
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Former Greenville Public School District superintendent Harvey Franklin has reported to prison to begin serving more than six years in a federal bribery case related to a $1.4 million reading program for children.
Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke says the 57-year-old Franklin arrived Monday at a minimum security prison in Montgomery, Ala.
Franklin pleaded guilty in August 2012. He was sentenced to 76 months on Nov. 13 for taking more than $270,000 in bribes to influence the school board to use the program. He also was ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution.
Franklin’s lawyer, Julie Ann Epps, filed a notice on Dec. 6 that they are appealing the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
 
California
College student pleads not guilty in hate crime 
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — One of four suspended white students accused of hate crimes against a black student at a California college has pleaded not guilty.
Logan Beaschler entered his plea to misdemeanor hate crime and misdemeanor battery charges during his arraignment in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday. The 18-year-old is one of four freshmen at San Jose State University charged with racially tormenting their black roommate between August and October.
Authorities say the white students taunted the black student with racial slurs, barricaded him in his room and placed a U-shaped bicycle lock around his neck.
The other students have not yet entered pleas. Beaschler is due back in court on March 4.
The alleged incident sparked outrage and demonstrations on campus and led the university to set up a task force that will conduct an independent review.
 
New York
Man back on trial for 2007 murder of his girlfriend
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Jury selection is underway for the retrial of a 39-year-old upstate New York man charged with killing his girlfriend.
James Guilford is charged with killing Sharon Nugent in 2007 and disposing of her body, which has never been found.
The state Court of Appeals threw out Guilford’s original conviction in June after determining his 49-hour interrogation by Syracuse police violated his rights. Guilford didn’t sleep during the marathon interview and was then placed in a cell for eight hours before confessing in the presence of his lawyer.
In his confession, Guilford said he put Nugent’s body in a garage container, and police believe it was burned before they found out what happened. That confession won’t be used when the trial begins later this week in Onondaga County Court.
 
South Carolina
Man sentenced to execution seeking new trial 
CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — A man facing two death sentences after a pair of South Carolina killings in 2005 filed papers Monday seeking a new trial.
In a motion for post-conviction relief, Stephen Stanko argued that his lawyers failed to properly defend him during a trial over the death of 74-year-old Henry Turner, according to The Sun News of Myrtle Beach.
Authorities said Stanko killed his live-in girlfriend, 43-year-old Laura Ling, in her Murrells Inlet home and assaulted her teenage daughter. He then drove 25 miles to Turner’s home and killed him with a shotgun.
Stanko, 45, was convicted of murder in 2006 and sentenced to death for killing Ling. Three years later, he received the same verdict and sentence after a trial in Turner’s death.
The state Supreme Court has already upheld both convictions. No hearing date has been scheduled on Stanko’s new request.
Stanko, who is representing himself, said in his motion that his trial attorneys failed to present evidence that jurors had been prejudiced by widespread publicity before his second trial.
Stanko also said those lawyers also failed to present mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase of his trial but didn’t state what mitigating evidence was available.
In a manhunt that attracted national attention, Stanko eluded police for several days. He made no attempt to hide, flirting with women in a downtown Columbia restaurant and claiming he was a millionaire visiting from New York.
When he was apprehended at a shopping center in Augusta, Ga., Stanko was clad in a suit and tie, still driving Turner’s truck. He had tried to blend in with thousands of tourists in town for the Masters golf tournament, and authorities said Stanko had already persuaded another woman to let him move in with her.

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