National Roundup

Tennessee
Police: Woman admits to killing baby 10 years ago

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee woman called authorities and admitted to killing her child nearly a decade ago, police say.

Zohal Sakwall, 40, told Nashville detectives that she suffocated her 4-month-old daughter, Natalie, with a plastic bag in June 2010, according to a news release Tuesday from the police department.

Sakwall called the Metro Nashville Police Department’s Youth Services Division on Jan. 31 and admitted to the crime, police said. She was later interviewed in person and said she killed her daughter “due to what she said was the disruption to her life caused by having the child,” according to the release.

At the time of the child’s death, Sakwall told police the baby got entangled in a blanket and suffocated. Authorities had ruled the death an accident. She has now admitted that she destroyed evidence and staged the scene to cover up her crime, police said.

A grand jury indicted Sakwall on a charge of first-degree murder and she was arrested Monday. It’s unclear whether she had an attorney to comment on her behalf.

Florida
Judge: Second expert to evaluate man who bit victim

STUART, Fla. (AP) — A judge in Florida has granted a motion to have another mental health expert evaluate a Florida college student accused of fatally attacking a couple outside their home and chewing off part of the man’s face.

Earlier in March a health expert for the state agreed with a defense expert’s assessment that Austin Harrouff was insane on Aug. 15, 2016 when he attacked John Stevens III and Michelle Miscon.

In his recent ruling, Circuit Court Judge Sherwood Bauer Jr. said this is the only time he’ll grant permission for prosecutors to have a second expert appointed to evaluate Harrouff, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Harrough was a 19-year-old Florida State University student when the attack happened. He is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and with the attempted murder a neighbor who came to the aid of the couple during the attack.

Defense expert Dr. Phillip Resnick wrote in 2019 that Harrouff, now 23, believed he was “half-man, half-dog” when he attacked the couple.

The state’s expert, psychologist Gregory Landrum, evaluated Harrouff for five hours in October and concluded he was insane at the time.

“Such an event is highly unusual as people with mental illness are no more likely to commit violent crimes than ordinary members of the public,” Landrum wrote.

Pennsylvania
Attorney accused of investment fraud scheme

A Pennsylvania attorney has been charged with bilking his law clients out of more than $2.7 million in an investment fraud scheme, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Todd Lahr, 60, of Nazareth, was charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud for a scheme prosecutors allege operated from 2012 through 2019, the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Lahr, an attorney in Allentown, told investors that their money would go into a variety of business opportunities, most prominently a Papua New Guinea mining operation, that didn’t exist, authorities allege. He used the money for such things as his mortgage, his child’s school tuition, utility bills and other personal debt, they say.

Louisiana
Court: Sheriff’s settlement for man’s death to be made public

NEW ORLEANS, La. (AP) — A federal court ruled the amount of money paid to the family of a 22-year-old Louisiana man who died in a sheriff’s patrol car must be made public.

The unanimous ruling by an appeals court in Louisiana will unseal how much taxpayer money was paid in a civil rights lawsuit against the office of the Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal in the death of Victor White III, The Times-Picayune / The New Orleans Advocate reported.

White’s death was ruled a suicide after he died from a gunshot wound while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car six years ago.

No charges were pursued in White’s death, but it initiated a wider federal investigation into civil rights violations in the sheriff’s office that led to 11 deputies pleading guilty. A jury acquitted Ackal of civil rights abuses in 2016.

The court’s decision Monday comes nearly two years after a U.S. judge refused attempts by local media outlets to unseal the settlement.

“We always thought that we were on the right side of this issue,” said Scott Sternberg, an attorney for the media outlets. “When a public body pays a settlement using taxpayer dollars, the taxpayers should be allowed to see that amount.”

The judge had sided with the mother of White’s minor child, the beneficiary of the settlement, who opposed making the payment public in order to protect the child’s privacy.

The court’s latest ruling noted the sheriff’s office had settled with Shandell Bradley, the minor’s mother, was already public, as were the settlements paid out for other lawsuits.

It also dismissed the judge’s other rationales for sealing the payment, including that disclosure might harm the sheriff’s office in other lawsuits and the media’s interest in a sensationalized story.

Georgia
Pharmacy gets $2M in fines for illegal scripts

HAZELHURST, Ga. (AP) — A south Georgia pharmacy that gave out 350,000 illegal prescriptions from a doctor running a pill mill agreed to pay over $2 million in fines, authorities said.

Chip’s Discount Drugs and pharmacist, Rogers “Chip” Wood, Jr., settled on a federal lawsuit and agreed to penalties, U.S. Attorney, Bobby L. Christine, said Tuesday in a news release.

According to the lawsuit, the pharmacy ignored numerous red flags and dispensed thousands of illegal prescriptions for opioids and other substances written by Dr. Frank Bynes, Jr. over the course of two years. Bynes was sentenced in February to 20 years in federal prison for writing illegal prescriptions.

Pharmacies that turn a blind eye to illegitimate prescriptions are contributing to the opioid epidemic and allowing pill-mill doctors to wreak havoc on the community, Christie said.

According to the lawsuit, the Hazlehurst-based pharmacy and Wood also could not account for more than 9,000 prescription pain medications supplied to the pharmacy, as required by law.

“This pharmacist scarred many lives through his actions,” said Robert J. Murphy of the DEA in Atlanta, “Unfortunately, many of those patients will struggle with addiction for the rest of their lives.”

The settlement is the fifth prosecution of pharmacies or pharmacists affiliated with Bynes.
 

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