Court Digest

20 years for man who plotted attack on synagogue

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — A man who vowed support for a terrorist group and planned an attack on an Ohio synagogue was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison on Monday, federal prosecutors said.

Damon Joseph, 23, of Holland, Ohio, pleaded guilty in May to attempting to provide material support for the Islamic State terrorist group and attempting to commit a hate crime, the Department of Justice said.

A message seeking comment was left Monday with Joseph’s attorney.

Joseph, also known as Abdullah Ali Yusuf, spent months posting photos of weapons, praising the Islamic State group and talking about carrying out a violent attack on the synagogue, according to federal prosecutors. Those posts drew the attention of the FBI, which assigned undercover agents to communicate with Joseph.

The planned synagogue shooting was inspired by a gunman who killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018. Authorities said Joseph planned to attack on the Jewish sabbath so more people would be present during the assault.

Joseph was arrested on Dec. 7, 2018, after taking possession of two military-style assault rifles from an undercover FBI agent.

Jury panel dismissed over clerk of courts comment

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A panel of South Florida jurors was sent home after defense lawyers claimed that they were potentially poisoned by welcoming comments from the clerk of courts.

Broward County Clerk of Courts Brenda Forman quipped that  those who do the crime have to serve the time when she spoke to a jury pool that arrived at the courthouse on Monday morning, the South Florida SunSentinel reported.
Forman’s office says the comments were taken “out of context,” while defense laywers say the phrase could encourage guilty verdicts.

The issue was raised by Assistant Public Defender Melinda Blostein, who was in the panel of prospective jurors on Monday, the newspaper reported.

She wrote a notarized letter notifying officials about the comments, which Blostein paraphrased.

A statement released by the clerk’s office late Monday said that Forman “takes the time to thank jurors for their service whenever possible,” adding that “it appears that some comments were taken out of context. The matter is resolved and will not be an issue going forward.”

Prosecutors asked Forman to revise her presentation, the newspaper reported.

More than 300 jurors heard the statements, but only 22 were dismissed. They had been assigned to a case in which an employee of Forman was the victim. Chief Administration Judge Jack Tuter said Forman was unaware that case was on Monday’s docket.

He told the newspaper that Forman’s comments would not have been enough on their own to justify striking all 300 jurors from service.

Justices say 24/7 video surveillance violated Fourth Amendment rights

DENVER (AP) — The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that police officers violated a man’s constitutional rights when they installed a video camera on a utility pole near his home and spied on him for months without getting a search warrant.

The justices said the 24-hour-a-day, 3-month-long surveillance of the Colorado Springs man’s front yard, house, driveway and part of his backyard violated his Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures,
The Denver Post reported. His conviction and 15-year-prison sentence for drug trafficking were overturned.

The unanimous decision differentiates between police officers personally watching suspects and officers using technology to record a person’s every move for extended periods of time.

The man had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his yard, even though parts of the area were visible to the public, the court found. And the Colorado Springs Police Department should have received a search warrant before setting up the camera, which could pan and zoom to see over the man’s 6-foot-tall (1.8-meter-tall) fence.

The justices also rejected the state’s argument that the surveillance wasn’t as intrusive as GPS tracking or the use of cellphone data, noting that constant surveillance “shares many of the troubling attributes of GPS tracking.”

Judge suspends tougher standards on deadly force

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A judge has suspended Minnesota’s new stricter standards on when police can use deadly force, halting a change in state law that followed the death of George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police.

The new standards, passed by the Legislature in 2020, raised the bar on officers to justify in specific terms how their actions involving lethal force were necessary.

Several law enforcement lobbying groups  filed a legal challenge to get the law tossed out or at least suspended until more officers could be trained on the new expectations.

Ramsey County Judge Leonardo Castro on Monday ruled that the changes to the law will be put on hold until the lawsuit is complete and that the use of force conditions will revert to those that were in place before the new law went into effect in March. Castro said oral arguments will take place within 60 days, the  Star Tribune reported.

“The public policy implications are severe, and it is imperative that we get this right,” Castro wrote in his order.

The 2020 law change no longer allows officers to justify deadly force by claiming that they used such force to protect themselves or another person from “apparent” death or great bodily harm. The new law now reads, “to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm.”

Castro declined to grant Gov. Tim Walz’s motion to dismiss the case after the governor argued that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue. The plaintiffs include the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and Law Enforcement Labor Services Inc.

South Carolilna
Missing law firm money is 5th investigation into Murdaughs

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — State police have officially opened an investigation into missing money that a law firm said was taken by an attorney from a prominent South Carolina legal family whose wife and son were killed at their home three months ago.

Monday’s announcement means that, along with the investigation into the deaths, the State Law Enforcement Division has four other ongoing investigations into Alex Murdaugh and his family.

“I continue to urge the public to be patient and let this investigation take its course. Investigative decisions we make throughout this case and any potentially related case must ultimately withstand the scrutiny of the criminal justice process,” Chief Mark Keel said in a two paragraph announcement from his agency.

Murdaugh’s PMPED law firm announced earlier this month that Murdaugh had misappropriated money from the business and was no longer associated with the firm. Exactly how much money might be missing has not been made public.
The Sept. 6 announcement came two days after Murdaugh reported someone shot at him while he checked on a flat tire on his Mercedes SUV on a lonely road in Hampton County, grazing his head close enough that his lawyer said his skull was fractured.

State police are investigating that shooting.

The firm announced the missing money just hours after Murdaugh issued his own statement saying he was going into rehab for a opioid addiction.

“I have made a lot of decisions that I truly regret,” Murdaugh said without giving details.

The South Carolina Supreme Court suspended Murdaugh’s law license during the investigation into the missing money.

Murdaugh found the bodies of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and 22-year-old son, Paul, shot multiple times at the family’s Colleton County home on June 7.

Along with the killings, the Sept. 4 shooting on the highway and potential financial misdeeds, state police also are investigating if anyone tried to obstruct an investigation into a 2019 boating accident that killed a 19-year-old woman. Paul Murdaugh was charged with boating under the influence causing death in that case.

State police also said the deaths of the Murdaughs  led them to reopen the July 2015 death of a 19-year-old man that was called a hit-and-run. Investigators haven’t said what led them to reopen that case, but the victim’s mother has maintained for the six years since he was found dead on a two-lane road in Hampton County that she thought her son was beaten to death.

All five investigations remain open and no arrests have been made.

‘Shark Tank’ star O’Leary’s wife found not guilty in crash that killed 2

TORONTO (AP) — The wife of “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary was been found not guilty Tuesday of charges stemming from in a boat crash that killed two people in central Ontario two years ago.

Linda O’Leary was charged with careless operation of a vessel following the Aug. 24, 2019, collision on Lake Joseph, north of Toronto. Her husband was on board, as was a family friend.

Two people on the other boat — Gary Poltash, 64, of Florida, and Suzana Brito, 48, from Uxbridge, Ontario — died from their injuries. Three others were hurt.

The verdict was delivered in a hearing in Parry Sound, Ontario, that was also livestreamed.

Kevin O’Leary ran for the leadership of Canada’s Conservative party in 2017 but later dropped out.

State senator’s trial on theft charges begins

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A jury was selected Monday in the trial of a Tennessee state senator charged with stealing more than $600,000 in federal funds received by a health care school she directed and using the money to pay for her wedding and other personal expenses.

State Sen. Katrina Robinson was charged in July 2020 with wire fraud, and theft and embezzlement involving government programs, after the FBI searched the school and her home. She has pleaded not guilty.

A 12-person jury was chosen for the trial, which could last three weeks. Opening statements were set for Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman said.

Robinson, a Memphis Democrat, was elected to the General Assembly in 2018. She was accused of stealing funds from federal grants slated for The Healthcare Institute, which provides training for jobs in the health care field.

The school, which Robinson founded, received more than $2.2 million in federal grants from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

An FBI affidavit alleges the federal funds were deposited into the school’s bank account for its operations. The funds were then “commingled indiscriminately with personal expenditure for the benefit of Robinson and her immediate family,” FBI special agent Matthew Pruitt wrote.

From 2015 through 2019, Robinson used more than $600,000 in grant money to pay for personal expenses such as her wedding and honeymoon, a 2016 Jeep Renegade for her daughter, travel and entertainment for her family, and an event for her state Senate campaign, prosecutors said.

She also used the money to pay for legal fees for her divorce, home improvements and a snow cone business operated by her children, prosecutors said.

Robinson also paid herself $169,134 more than she was allowed to under salary amounts permitted by the federal grant, the FBI affidavit said. She also gave herself $54,000 for her personal retirement account, prosecutors said.

Robinson’s attorney, Janika White, said Robinson would be vindicated. Robinson said in July 2020 that she would fight the charges.

“It is believed that if I were not in the position that I’m in, that if I did not champion the voices, the views and the faces that I represent, that I would not be in this moment right now,” said Robinson, who is Black.

The Senate Democratic Caucus has said Robinson’s work in the state Legislature “is not in question” and she “deserves the presumption of innocence and due process.”

If convicted, Robinson faces a possible sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison. Robinson would be up for reelection in 2022.

Robinson also faces federal charges in a second case related to an alleged tuition payment fraud. She has pleaded not guilty in that case.