National Roundup

Pennsylvania
Prosecutors can try to reinstate charges in ’15 Amtrak wreck

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The fight to reinstate criminal charges against the engineer in a deadly 2015 Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia will carry over into next year.

A judge on Wednesday told prosecutors that she will review Brandon Bostian’s case, and she set a hearing for February where prosecutors may have the chance to argue that the engineer should held criminally accountable for the derailment.

A different judge in September threw out involuntary manslaughter and other charges after finding evidence pointed to an accident.

Eight people died and more than 200 people were injured when the train rounded a curve at more than twice the speed limit and derailed in May 2015.

Federal safety investigators determined that Bostian lost track of where he was on the route after hearing on the radio that a commuter train had been struck with a rock. Thinking he was on a long straightaway, Bostian accelerated the train, they concluded. The train was actually approaching a sharp curve.

Bostian has been on unpaid administrative leave from Amtrak since the crash and is suing the government-owned railroad, alleging he was left disoriented or unconscious when something struck his train before it derailed. Federal investigators believe nothing struck Bostian’s locomotive.

Amtrak has taken responsibility for the crash and agreed to pay $265 million to settle claims filed by victims and their families. It has also installed speed controls on all its track from Boston to Washington.

Bostian exited the Philadelphia courthouse surrounded by a group of people who put themselves between the engineer and news photographers. His lawyer told reporters after the hearing that Bostian wants to put the case behind him.

Arkansas
High court seeks to dismiss judge’s lawsuit

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Supreme Court justices want a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by a judge who was barred from considering any execution-related cases after blocking the use of a lethal injection drug and participating in an anti-death penalty demonstration.

The court’s seven justices filed motions in federal court this week in response to the lawsuit by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen challenging his disqualification.

Justices in April barred Griffen from hearing execution cases after he was photographed laying down on a cot outside the governor’s mansion the same day he blocked Arkansas from using a lethal injection drug over claims that the state misled a medical supply company. Griffen has said he was portraying Jesus and participating in a prayer vigil.

Delaware
Widow of lawyer seeks to pay off estate debts

DOVER, Del. (AP) — The widow of a lawyer for whom Delaware’s largest courthouse is named is seeking court permission to sell several properties he owned to help pay off estate debts totaling more than $500,000.

Court filings indicate that Andrea Williams wants to sell the Wilmington law office property of the late Leonard L. Williams for $180,000.

Wilmington city officials have agreed to buy four other properties for $40,000, but Williams’ children have not consented to the sales.

Williams, who died in 2013, was one of the first black attorneys licensed in Delaware and became the state’s second African-American judge in 1966. The New Castle County Courthouse was renamed in his honor last year.

Court filings indicated that his estate debts include outstanding local taxes and utility bills totaling more than $40,000.

Illinois
52-year-old judge dies a few weeks into new job

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — A 52-year-old Illinois appellate judge has died unexpectedly just weeks into his new job on the bench.

The Sangamon County coroner’s office says John Schmidt was pronounced dead at a Springfield hospital early Tuesday. It said the death was presumed to be from natural causes.

The Illinois Supreme Court announced two months ago that Schmidt would replace a retiring justice on the 4th District Appellate Court, effective Dec. 7. He was Sangamon County state’s attorney from 1999 to 2010.

Supreme Court Justice Rita Garman said she was “shocked and deeply saddened.” She called Schmidt “a distinguished judge and a friend ... who will be sorely missed.”

He is survived by his wife and school-aged son. To honor Schmidt, flags outside the Sangamon County Complex were lowered to half-staff.

Washington
Ring leader in opioid trafficking plot sentenced

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A Tacoma, Washington, man accused of leading an opioid trafficking ring that brought pills from Los Angeles to Western Washington has been sentenced to five years in prison.

The News Tribune reports 48-year-old Lionel Lee Hampton Jr., was sentenced Monday by Judge Benjamin Settle.

Hampton pleaded guilty earlier this year in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to conspiracy to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Investigators stopped Hampton and several other people in 2010 and 2011 and found they were carrying prescription pills.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency started investigating Hampton and found he regularly made short trips to Los Angeles, determining he was an intermediary between suppliers in California and redistributors in Western Washington.

They arrested Hampton and others in the ring in July 2016.

Hampton told law enforcement he moved about 10,000 pills a month.

Missouri
Man who killed wife gets 35 year federal sentence

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A federal judge has extended the prison sentence of a southeast Missouri man who killed the mother of his triplets amid a divorce and then helped write a tell-all book.

Forty-seven-year-old James Clay Waller, of Jackson, was sentenced Tuesday to 35 years for interstate domestic violence.

Waller admitted through his plea to digging a grave for Jacque Sue Waller in 2011 on an island on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. He also admitted to beating and strangling her the next day after a meeting at a divorce lawyer's office. The triplets were 5 at the time.

In exchange for leading investigators to her body in 2013, Waller previously was sentenced to 20 years in state prison for second-degree murder. The state and federal sentences will run concurrently.

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