National Roundup

Police: Man faces charges after stealing signs

AVON LAKE, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio man is facing charges after police say he stole more than 500 signs, claiming they were an eyesore and a distraction to drivers.

John Hoelzl, of Avon Lake, was charged Wednesday with a felony count of receiving stolen property.

Police say the signs, valued at more than $5,500, were taken over a period of several months.

The Avon Lake Police Department began investigating the thefts after receiving several complaints. Police say some of the signs were illegally posted, but most had been granted city approval.

Hoelzl tells WJW-TV in Cleveland that he “probably shouldn’t have” taken the signs and he expresses his apologies.

Court records show he faces a preliminary hearing June 29.

Jury awards $2.9M in man’s killing by son

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A jury in Tacoma has found Washington state responsible in the death of a Tacoma man whose son killed him nine months after being released from a state psychiatric hospital.

Jurors on Thursday awarded $2.9 million in damages to the family of Robert Meline, 56, who was killed in 2012 while sleeping.

His family sued the state and Western State Hospital in 2013, arguing that it wrongly released Robert’s son, Jonathan Meline, from involuntary civil-commitment, The News Tribune reported. They said officials knew the son suffered from delusions and violent behavior.

His parents were uneasy about the decision but agreed to let Jonathan into their home after being told the only other option was the streets.

Jurors found the hospital was negligent in handling his release.

Attorneys for the state argued that the younger Meline showed signs of stability prior to his release, and that the father’s slaying wasn’t foreseeable.

Records revealed during the trial, however, showed that psychiatrists at the hospital believed Jonathan was still dangerous, not ready for release into the community and likely to harm others.

Nine months after his release, Jonathan Meline was charged with killing his father with a hatchet. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and is at Western.

Outside the courtroom, a number of jurors surrounded Kim Meline and embraced her. Some jurors spoke to Meline and her daughters through tears.

Kim Meline said after Thursday’s verdict that her son should have been kept in an institution and that she was thrilled with the verdict.

New Jersey
Man convicted of having sex with a 12-year-old girl to be set free

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey man convicted of having sex with a 12-year-old girl is to be freed from prison — and cannot be retried — after an appeals court found that “fatal” mistakes made at the trial left the verdicts unintelligible.

The Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court overturned the conviction and 15-year sentence of 37-year-old Dennis Conover, of Manalapan, The Asbury Park Press reports. Conover’s record also is to be wiped clean.

Conover was indicted on more than 20 charges and convicted of three sexual assault-related counts in May 2014.

His girlfriend, Mary Ellen Deane, was separately convicted of having sex with the same 12-year-old and was sentenced to 15 years. But the appeals court ruling does not affect her case.

The appeals court found in a decision released Monday that in Conover’s case, Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney and prosecutors failed to make clear the specific allegations linked to each charge, leaving jurors to sort it out.

The judges said the trial errors made it impossible to determine which allegations Conover was convicted or acquitted of. “The verdict sheet did not distinguish at all between the identically-worded counts,” the appellate judges wrote.

Because of this uncertainty, they ruled, Conover cannot be retried without violating double jeopardy restrictions.

The court sent the case back to Blaney to dismiss the charges.

The judge did not reply to a request for comment. A trial judge’s many duties include issuing jury instructions to guide jurors during deliberations.

Samuel Marzarella, chief appellate attorney for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, acknowledged “defects” in the indictment issued by the office, but said the prosecutor is exploring whether to appeal the ruling.

The appeals court ruling referred to the defendant as “D.C.” The newspaper said Marzarella would not confirm that “D.C.” was, in fact, Dennis Conover. The Press said that, aided by John Paff of the New Jersey Foundation for Open Government, it traced an indictment number referenced in the “D.C.” appellate court decision to Conover’s 2014 conviction. And the docket number of Conover’s 2015 appeal also correlates with the appellate court decision.

Justice Dept. backs ‘sanctuary city’ law in court

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Trump administration is backing a Texas “sanctuary city” crackdown in court ahead of a federal judge deciding whether to put the new law on hold.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday that Texas “has admirably” followed the lead of President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on illegal immigration. The new law takes effect in September and lets police ask people about their immigration status during routine stops.

Houston this week joined other major Texas cities, including Dallas and Austin, in asking U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to stop the law from taking effect. The first court hearing is Monday in San Antonio.

Opponents say the law is unconstitutional and will create a chilling effect in immigrant communities. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott says only lawbreakers have anything to worry about.

Farmers in Syngenta suit awarded $218M

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — A federal jury in Kansas has awarded nearly $218 million to farmers who sued Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta over its introduction of a genetically engineered corn seed variety.

Friday’s verdict after a three-week trial in Kansas City, Kansas, involves four Kansas farmers representing more than 7,000 farmers in the state. Another trial involving about 60,000 cases begins next month in Minnesota.

The lawsuits allege Syngenta introduced the seed variety to the U.S. market before China approved it for imports, wrecking an increasingly important export market for U.S. corn and causing price drops.

The Kansas trial was the first test case. It and the Minnesota trial will provide guidance for how the complex web of litigation in state and federal courts could be resolved.