Court Digest

2nd teen charged in teacher's killing to be tried as adult

FAIRFIELD, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa teenager accused of killing his high school Spanish teacher learned Thursday that he will be tried as an adult, a day after a judge rejected his accused accomplice's request to move the case to juvenile court.

District Judge Shawn Showers ruled that Willard Miller, 16, of Fairfield, will be tried in November on a first-degree murder charge in the beating death of 66-year-old Nohema Graber, who taught at Fairfield High School. Miller and 17-year-old Jeremy Goodale are charged in Graber's death.

The judge said the juvenile court system would not have enough time to rehabilitate Miller "for a crime of such magnitude." If found guilty, the juvenile system would not have been able to detain Miller more than six months past his 19th birthday.

Miller and Goodale were both 16 when they were arrested in Graber's killing. Graber's body was found Nov. 3 hidden under a tarp, a wheelbarrow and railroad ties at a Fairfield city park. Police said she had been beaten to death with a baseball bat.

Fairfield is about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southeast of Des Moines.


New York
Trial date set for ex-NY Lt Gov in corruption case

NEW YORK (AP) — A January trial date was set Thursday for former New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin to face charges that he traded his clout as a state senator for campaign contributions.

The Jan. 23 date was set by U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in Manhattan during an otherwise routine pretrial hearing.

Benjamin's lawyer, Barry Berke, told Oetken he thinks there will be no trial because he will prove prosecutors overreached by charging Benjamin last month.

The arrest spoiled the Democrat's plans to join New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, another Democrat, in her campaign for governor. Benjamin resigned as lieutenant governor after pleading not guilty on the day of his arrest.

"We believe it's the most aggressive political corruption case ever pursued in any court," Berke said.

Berke said the prosecution's claims were "not a crime." The government alleges Benjamin obtained campaign contributions from a real estate developer in exchange for Benjamin's agreement to use his influence as a state senator to get a $50,000 grant of state funds for a nonprofit organization the developer controlled.

The lawyer said earlier court cases have shown that what occurred between Benjamin and the real estate developer was common practice and for centuries has not been illegal.

"We have not found a single case that has ever been brought that is remotely close to this case," he said.

"It is absolutely not a crime," Berke added. "The indictment should and will be dismissed."

Responding to the argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Abramowicz said prosecutors were well aware of court cases Berke cited as proof that the indictment should be dismissed.

"We don't believe there are any grounds for dismissal of the indictment," he said.

Benjamin did not comment as he left the courthouse.

In September, Hochul chose Benjamin, then a state lawmaker, to serve as second-in-command when she became governor after Democrat Andrew Cuomo resigned amid allegations he sexually harassed 11 women, which he denied.


Lindenwood University settles COVID online classes lawsuit

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Lindenwood University in St. Charles will pay $1.65 million to nearly 6,000 students who were moved to online classes in the spring of 2020 during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money goes to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by students who argued that they overpaid for tuition because virtual instruction is less expensive than in-person classes, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The lawsuit, which said online learning options were "subpar in practically every aspect" to in-person classes, had sought for more than $5 million in reimbursements from Lindenwood.

On Wednesday, a federal judge on approved the settlement, which will see each student receive roughly $185. The students' attorneys will receive about $550,000.

A similar class action case filed by students at Washington University in St. Louis was dismissed by another federal judge in March.


State raises caps on medical malpractice lawsuit awards

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The California Legislature on Thursday agreed to increase how much money people can win in medical malpractice lawsuits, resolving one of the thorniest disputes in state politics by raising a cap on damages for the first time in 47 years.

Since 1975, the most money a person in California could win for pain and suffering in a medical malpractice lawsuit has been $250,000. Starting Jan. 1, that cap will increase to $350,000 for people who were injured and $500,000 for the families of people who died.

Those amounts would gradually increase over the next decade until they reach $750,000 for injured patients and $1 million for families of deceased patients. After that, the caps will increase 2% every year to keep up with inflation.

The state Assembly voted on Thursday to send the bill to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has said he will sign it into law.

Thursday's vote also avoids a costly ballot initiative fight this year. Supporters have agreed to withdraw their ballot initiative once Newsom signs the bill into law.

"The fights that appear to bind us for decades are only as impossible to overcome as we allow them to be," said Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, a Democrat from Colton who authored the bill.


South Dakota
Court hears abuse allegations of five special needs students

ABERDEEN, S.D. (AP) — Some Aberdeen School District employees have made their case before the 8th District appeals court that a lawsuit by parents of five special education student should not proceed to trial.

The appeals court heard the case Wednesday. The parents allege a teacher subjected their children to physical restraint, seclusion as punishment and unnecessary use of force, among other offenses. The plaintiffs say the teacher's supervisors ignored their complaints.

The students are all non-verbal, some with autism, some have physical disabilities.

Allegations include that the children's teacher confined the students in a small windowless room, that she grabbed students by the arms and jerked them around, that she pushed one boy into a YMCA pool, that she forcibly stripped another boy to get him ready for swimming, South Dakota Public Broadcasting reported.

Zachary Peterson, an attorney for the defendants, told the three-judge appeals panel that there's no evidence the children were physically or psychologically harmed.

But the attorney for the parents and students said otherwise.

Margaret O'Sullivan Kane told the judges that the children were not able to speak for themselves, and the abuse they suffered would not be tolerated by students who could speak up. She said school administrators had the opportunity to put a stop to the abuse but chose to look the other way.

The federal circuit judge presiding over the case issued an order last October and held that the case could continue to a jury. The employees appealed.

Wife of man killed by motorist awarded $10M

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — A woman who hit and killed a pedestrian in Columbia while she was talking on her phone and speeding has been ordered to pay $10 million to the victim's wife.

Circuit Court Judge Joshua Devine on Wednesday approved the judgment in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against Regine McCraken by Adrienne Siddens, KMIZ-TV reported.

Siddens' husband, Randall Siddens, was killed on May 5, 2019, when McCracken hit him as he picked up traffic cones while volunteering at a triathlon, police said.

McCracken was speeding and talking on her phone when she went around a police escort and hit Randall Siddens, police said. He died from his injuries six months later.

McCracken was sentenced in May 2021 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and other charges.


Doctor innocent after murder trial permanently loses license

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Despite being found innocent of murder charges related to multiple patient deaths, a doctor determined that practicing medicine again in Ohio would be impossible following a yearslong ordeal and so chose to surrender his medical license, his attorney said.

William Husel, 46, was acquitted last month of 14 counts of murder following accusations that he ordered excessive amounts of painkillers for patients in the Mount Carmel Health System. He was charged in 2019 with 25 deaths, but a new prosecutor reduced the counts before the trial began in March.

Husel still faced an administrative charge of failing to cooperate with a medical board investigation into the criminal allegations. He agreed on May 5 that he was guilty of that charge and on Wednesday the board revoked his license.

As a practical matter, "the publicity, shall we say, the aura around the entire event" made practicing again in Ohio unlikely, Husel's attorney, Doug Graff, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

"So that this was an appropriate way to resolve the matter, without going through another set of hearings," Graff said.

Husel could practice in other states, though it's unclear what the former physician plans to do, his attorney said.

"I don't know what his future holds, and I'm sure at this point he doesn't either," Graff said. He added: "He was pleased to get the criminal charges resolved in his favor, and this was the way to get the matter resolved with the medical board."

Prosecutors said ordering such dosages for a nonsurgical situation indicated an intent to end lives. Husel's attorneys argued he was providing comfort care for dying patients, not trying to kill them.

After the verdict was announced, Husel's lead attorney, Jose Baez, said prosecutors didn't produce "a shred of evidence" to back up their claims.

Two jurors who found Husel not guilty gave interviews to multiple media outlets this week, and one of them, Damon Massey, said he felt that on at least some charges Husel was guilty but that the prosecution didn't prove its case.

Husel was fired by the Mount Carmel Health System, which has reached settlements totaling more than $16.7 million over the deaths of at least 17 patients, with more lawsuits pending.