National Roundup

Georgia
Man charged with shooting stepsons while cleaning gun

ATLANTA (AP) — Atlanta police say a man who accidentally shot his two stepsons while cleaning a handgun has been charged.

Officer Lisa Bender said 27-year-old Brandon Vicks was jailed on reckless conduct charges after the boys, ages 7 and 10, were wounded late Sunday.

Bender told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Vicks was cleaning the gun when it fired. The bullet ricocheted off the floor and hit the 7-year-old child in the hand and arm. It then hit the older boy above his right eye.

The injured children were taken to an Atlanta hospital. Their conditions were not immediately known.

Bender said three other children who were present during the shooting were not injured. It was not immediately known if Vicks had an attorney to represent him.

Connecticut
High court to hear appeal in Newtown school shooting case

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Lawyers are set to ask the Connecticut Supreme Court to reinstate a wrongful death lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used in the 2012 Newtown school massacre.

Justices are scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in an appeal by a survivor and relatives of nine people killed in the shooting.

They’re trying to sue Remington Arms, the North Carolina company that made the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle used to kill 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gunman Adam Lanza’s mother legally purchased the rifle.

A lower court judge dismissed the lawsuit, saying federal law shields gun makers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products.

The company denies the lawsuit’s allegations that it violated state law by selling such a dangerous weapon to the public.

Nevada
Man imprisoned for 21 years cleared by pardon board

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Nevada Board of Pardons has voted to clear a man who spent more than two decades in prison for a murder he did not commit.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and all seven state Supreme Court justices voted to issue an unconditional pardon to 54-year-old Fred Steese on Wednesday. Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who is running for governor, cast the sole no vote.

Laxalt said he relied on a letter from the Clark County District Attorney’s office opposing the pardon, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “The district attorney, Steve Wolfson, felt that this pardon was absolutely unwarranted,” he said.

Steese was convicted of the 1992 killing of a Las Vegas performer, but he always maintained his innocence. A judge declared him factually innocent in 2012, but the district attorney refiled charges.

In order to get out of prison, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder using a rarely used legal maneuver that allowed him to maintain his innocence.

“I’m a new man now,” Steese told the newspaper in a phone interview on Friday. “It’s lifted a black cloud over me.”

Steese was convicted in 1995 for the death of 56-year-old Gerard Soules, who ran a dog show at Circus Circus. Soules’ throat was slashed, and his naked body was found at Silver Nugget Camperland in North Las Vegas.

The prosecutors were Bill Kephart and Doug Herndon, who both are now district judges.

Steese’s lawyers said that he was in Idaho at the time of the slaying. Lisa Rasmussen, his attorney since 2013, said Steese’s 1992 confession to police was coerced and beaten out of him after he had driven three days without sleep to talk to investigators about a friend who had been killed.

“I’m just so pleased with the results,” Rasmussen said Friday. “I’m so proud of Fred. He has struggled so much, but he’s kind of a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit. I hope this makes it a lot easier for him.”

Steese is now a long-haul truck driver.

An unconditional pardon removes all disabilities resulting from a conviction and can restore the right to bear arms, according to the Pardon Board. But it does not erase the conviction.

Massachusetts
Court renamed after 1st black high court justice

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts courthouse has been renamed in honor of the first African American to sit on the state’s highest court.

The Hamden County Hall of Justice in Springfield will now be called the Roderick L. Ireland Courthouse. A renaming ceremony was held on Friday.

Ireland became the first African American on the Supreme Judicial Court when he was appointed as an associate justice in 1997.

He was also the court’s first African-American Chief Justice. He retired from the court in 2014 after serving as a judge for nearly four decades.

Ireland is now a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University.

Missouri
Judge faces rare chance to impose death penalty

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (AP) — A southwest Missouri jury’s inability to decide whether a man should be put to death for kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old girl sets up a rare situation where a judge will make that decision.

Circuit Judge Thomas Mountjoy is scheduled to announce Jan. 11 whether Craig Wood will get the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison. Wood was convicted of kidnapping and killing Hailey Owen in Springfield in February 2014 but the jury announced Monday that it couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on his sentence.

Missouri and Indiana are the only states where a judge can impose a death sentence, while other states follow the federal procedure that defendant is sentenced to life in prison if a jury can’t reach a decision on the death penalty, The Springfield News-Leader reported . But in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only a jury, not a judge, can make that decision.

Robert Dunham, executive director of the nonprofit Death Penalty Information Center, said a judge-imposed sentence might contradict the Supreme Court ruling. He said if Mountjoy imposes the death penalty, the constitutionality of the process will “unquestionably” be challenged by Wood’s attorneys during the appeal process.

But Wood’s attorney Patrick Berrigan declined to comment on his legal strategy.

Berrigan, a public defender who handles only death penalty cases, said it’s been more than 20 years since he had a case where a judge imposed the death sentence.

Judge Mountjoy did not respond to News-Leader requests asking if he has ever been in this situation before.

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