Court Digest

State Supreme Court has a new chief justice

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court has a new chief justice.

John Weimer, 66, of Thibodaux, took the oath of office this month as the state’s 26th chief justice. A ceremony marking his investiture was held in New Orleans on Thursday. Weimer fills the seat vacated by Bernette Joshua Johnson, who retired Dec. 31 after serving 26 years on the high court.

“I feel a profound sense of humility and the recognition of the obligation of service,” Weimer said. “I have served with three chief justices who have made their mark on the judiciary in special ways … I have learned much from each of them, and I promise to work hard to be dedicated to the principles of impartiality, independence and fairness while pursuing justice and acting with integrity just as my predecessors did.”

The Courier reports that Gov. John Bel Edwards, who spoke at Thursday’s ceremony, said Weimer is becoming Louisiana’s highest jurist during one of history’s most difficult periods, with a global pandemic raging.

“John Weimer is the right person to lead this court during these challenging times,” the Democratic governor said.

The new chief justice rose quickly through judicial ranks. Weimer became a state district judge for the 17th District in Thibodaux in 1995, before being elected to Louisiana’s 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in 1998. He was elected to the state Supreme Court in 2001 during a special election. He was re-elected to 10-year terms without opposition in 2002 and 2012.

Weimer ran as a Democrat through 2002, but without party affiliation in 2012.

His Supreme Court district includes Terrebonne, Lafourche, Assumption, Iberia, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Charles, St. James, St. John the Baptist, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes and part of Jefferson Parish.

Man gets new hearing 11 years after murder conviction

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man who was convicted in the murder-for-hire of a Naval officer in Newport News has gotten a new court hearing.

The Daily Press reported Sunday that the hearing for David A. Runyon will focus on whether his trial lawyers should have better investigated evidence that he was suffering from brain damage.

A Norfolk federal jury convicted Runyon in 2009 of shooting Cory Allen Voss five times outside an ATM. Authorities said the killing was orchestrated by Voss’ wife and her boyfriend and designed to look like a robbery gone bad.

Runyon was sentenced to death. His current attorneys argue that jurors might have spared his life if they knew about Runyon’s brain damage. It was possibly caused by child abuse and being later hit head-on by a drunk driver while serving in the Army.

Last month, a federal appeals court sent the case back to the Norfolk federal court for a hearing. It will be on whether one of Runyon’s 2009 trial attorneys provided “ineffective assistance of counsel” in not more fully exploring the brain damage issue.

North Carolina
Prosecutor: Veteran embezzled nearly $1M in benefits

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina Vietnam veteran embezzled nearly $1 million in health care benefits from the government that helped support a lifestyle that included dancing, playing basketball and buying a beach condo, according to federal prosecutors.

Federal prosecutors based in Winston-Salem said in a news release that 73-year-old Willie Dosher Cain of Fayetteville had pleaded guilty in 2020 to one count of embezzlement and was sentenced on Jan. 5 of this year to five years of probation. United States District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder said that Cain’s age and the COVID-19 pandemic influenced his sentencing decision.

Cain was also ordered to pay $900,000 in restitution and forfeit a 2018 van and a mobility scooter. He forfeited his Carolina Beach condo in a related action, prosecutors say.

Court documents say that Cain, a U.S. Army veteran and former Fayetteville police officer, told the Department of Veterans Affairs that shrapnel wounds caused him to lose the use of his legs and that he was dependent on a wheelchair or scooter. However, authorities say that Cain had an active lifestyle during the time that included playing basketball, dancing and working as a firearms instructor.

The news release said that Cain’s false claims allowed him to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits including direct aid payments, home modifications and adaptation of vehicles.

Former officers say sentences for corruption were too harsh

BALTIMORE (AP) — Two former Baltimore Police officers serving hundreds of years in prison say their punishments are too harsh and that they should be released.

Attorneys for the men argue in recent court filings that they would have received far shorter sentences today under sentencing reforms that were recently passed by Congress.

The Baltimore Sun reported Monday that William King and Antonio Murray were sentenced in 2006 to prison terms of 315 and 139 years, respectively. Authorities said the officers detained and robbed drug dealers before distributing the drugs to other dealers with whom they were aligned. They were convicted of robbery, extortion, and drug and handgun offenses.

Their sentences were much higher because the court was required to consecutively run various gun-related convictions. They also went to trial instead of striking plea deals. Murray’s attorney said he was offered a six-year plea deal after he was charged.

The sentences are unlike any others by corrupt officers. In Baltimore’s more recent Gun Trace Task Force case, the longest sentence of any officer was 25 years.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said prosecutors would respond to the filing in court and declined to comment.

Court orders new judge as drug case requires 4th sentencing

A federal appeals court in Louisiana removed a judge from the case of a convicted cocaine trafficker whose sentence has been overturned three times, saying the sentencing judge failed to consider the defendant’s “extraordinary cooperation” with authorities.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that a new judge be assigned for the fourth sentencing for Broderick D. Mathes, who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession with intent to distribute and other federal charges after being indicted along with his brother in 2014.

At his first sentencing in 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Shelly Dick sentenced Mathes to 17 1/2 years in prison. After that punishment was thrown out on appeal, the same judge sentenced him to 13 years and four months, which was also overturned. Regardless, Dick gave Mathes the exact same sentence when the case returned to her a third time.

“We do not question the good faith or integrity of the sentencing judge,” the appeals court said in its latest order Wednesday. “Nonetheless, under these rare and unusual circumstances, we instruct the district court to reassign the case to another judge for resentencing.”

It noted that ordering a new judge to take over a case is a power that should “rarely be invoked,” The Advocate reported.

The appeals court noted in its latest ruling that Mathes cooperated for four years with federal authorities and testified against his brother, Wilbert Mathes, at his 2016 trial.

Wilbert Mathes, the court said, had threatened to kill his brother. In rejecting Broderick Mathes’ second sentence a year ago, the appellate judges wrote that he had “risked his life by cooperating with the government.”

Dick had explained during one of Mathes’ prior sentencings that she had given him prison terms above the federal guideline range because his brother is serving a 27-year sentence for essentially the same crimes. Dick said she was trying to avoid unwarranted disparities in the brothers’ sentences.

Dick told the newspaper it would be inappropriate for her to comment on an appeals court ruling.

Mathes’ attorney, Franz Borghardt, said Dick is consistently fair and just.

“We feel the decision speaks for itself and we will prepare for resentencing,” Borghardt said.

Police officer charged in kidnap-slaying

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee police officer was charged with kidnapping a man in a squad car while on duty and fatally shooting him, authorities said.

Patric Ferguson, a Memphis police officer since 2018, was charged in the death of Robert Howard, 30, of Memphis. Howard was reported missing Wednesday, Memphis police said in a statement Sunday on Twitter.

Ferguson, 29, was fired following his arrest, the statement said.

Ferguson used a personal handgun to allegedly force Howard into the back of a police car and drove him to an area where he was shot, the statement said. An acquaintance, Joshua Rogers, 28, was charged with helping Ferguson relocate Howard’s body.

Ferguson was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree murder in perpetration of aggravated kidnapping. Rogers was charged with accessory after the fact. Both were charged with abuse of a corpse and fabricating and tampering with evidence.

West Virginia
Woman sentenced in infant sex abuse case

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia woman has been sentenced to the maximum 30 to 60 years in prison for her role in the sexual abuse of an infant.

Roseanna Elaine Thompson, 47, of Charleston, was sentenced Friday in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Thompson’s ex-fiancé, Richard Smith II, 41, was sentenced to up to 775 years in prison last March.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported jurors at Smith’s trial were shown videos of the molestation recorded by Smith and Thompson in 2015. The videos were found by another woman, Smith’s now ex-wife, who turned them over to police.

Thompson pleaded guilty last month to sexual abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian, or person in position of trust. Smith was found guilty of 20 counts, including 11 counts of first-degree sexual abuse.

Inmate sues to stop alleged moves that spread COVID-19

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A state prison inmate has sued the Utah Department of Corrections to stop the movement of inmates among buildings, an alleged lack of mask and glove use by prison officials and other measures he claims spread the coronavirus.

Damon Christ, who is serving time for theft, alleges the practices contributed to COVID-19 outbreaks at the Draper facility, The Deseret News reports. Since October, more than 1,200 inmates have been infected and 12 have died.

Christ says he tested positive for the coronavirus in November.

“I’m not asking for money damages. I’m not asking to be released,” Crist said of his 3rd District Court lawsuit. “I’m just saying, ‘Look, the department is moving people recklessly. It’s causing mass outbreaks and it’s infecting and killing people.”

A department spokeswoman declined comment, citing pending litigation. The department previously has said it consults health officials in moving inmates among buildings and quarantining those who test positive from the general prison population.

Judge Keith Kelly has ordered the department to respond to the allegations within 30 days.

Man convicted of killing stepmother wants to act as his own lawyer

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont man convicted of killing his stepmother in 2000 when he was 17-years-old wants to be his own lawyer when facing allegations he violated his probation.

Scott Favreau, who is now 38, was sentenced to up to 40 years in prison for the February 2000 killing of Vicki Campbell-Beer, at their West Burke home.

He was released on furlough in August of 2019. Two months later he was charged with taking part in a break-in at a jewelry store in Stowe.

The Caledonian Record reports  Favreau was later convicted in Lamoille Superior Court of aiding in the commission of a burglary. The charge also triggered a probation violation complaint in Caledonia County, which he has denied.

He’s now being held at the Newport prison.

His lawyer, Laura Wilson, is seeking to withdraw from the case. She says Favreau wants to represent himself. A hearing is scheduled for next week.

“Mr. Favreau has indicated that rather than have new counsel appointed, he would prefer to represent himself pro se,” she said in a court filing.