Court Roundup

Court upholds man’s conviction in death of woman set on fire

BOSTON (AP) — The highest court in Massachusetts has upheld the murder conviction of a Springfield man who was found guilty of killing his former girlfriend’s mother by dousing her with gasoline and setting her on fire.

Lastarandre Bell was convicted in 2008 in the death of Julie Ann Nieves. Bell had dated Nieves’ daughter. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed Bell’s first-degree felony murder conviction in 2011, finding that the judge gave improper jury instructions.

Bell was convicted at a second trial in 2012.

Bell appealed, claiming statements he made to police after the fire were not voluntary. He also argued that showing graphic photos of Nieves while she was being treated in the hospital unfairly prejudiced the jury.

The SJC rejected those arguments and upheld his convictions for first-degree murder and felony murder.

Murder defendant sends strange letters to judge

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — A man in jail on investigation of murder and attempted murder charges has been sending strange letters to an El Paso County judge while he waits for his trial.

The Gazette reports that 25-year-old Marcus Smith has been awaiting trial since 2011 in connection to the death of 87-year-old Kathryn Grazioli. He recently was accused of attempted murder for attacking an El Paso County jail guard.

Through an open records request, the Gazette found Smith has sent more than a dozen letters to a judge between 2012 and April of last year. The letters accuse the court of calling him “black” when he is actually “brown” and claim he is innocent and that his incarceration is “torture.”

Smith has had at least 58 hearings since his arrest and has yet to be arraigned.

Man assaulted by ex-county sheriff files federal lawsuit

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — The man former Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd assaulted after his arrest in 2012 says he mostly stays at home for fear of retribution from those still angry about what happened to the four-term sheriff.

In an interview with The Sun Herald, John Mark Stahl, 53, said he doesn’t trust any law enforcement.

Stahl is suing Byrd, Jackson County and other unnamed deputies for violating his civil, constitutional and human rights when one deputy kicked him in the face with his boot and Byrd twice kicked him in the groin after Stahl was taken into custody for stealing a Jackson County patrol car in June 2012.

Stahl is seeking more than $50 million in compensatory damages and more than $500 million in punitive damages along with costs to cover attorney’s fees and trial costs. He is demanding a jury trial.

Stahl’s attorney, Michael Crosby, filed the suit in U.S. District Court.

Stahl was arrested on charges accusing him of stealing sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Goff’s patrol car.

Stahl said he is not trying to excuse what he did by filing a lawsuit.

“I’m not trying to minimize my part in this,” he said.