LEAD STORY: In all likelihood, convicted murderer Paul Powell would have been sentenced to life in prison for his 1999 crime, but he could not resist gratuitously ridiculing the prosecutor. Powell's original sentence of death was overturned because of a technicality in Virginia law: The "aggravated" circumstance in a murder that warrants the death penalty must be committed against the actual murder victim (whereas the prosecutor had proved only that Powell had also raped the victim's sister). Powell assumed that the prohibition against "double jeopardy" thus ruled out the death penalty and so decided to gloat, calling the prosecutor "stupid" and taunting him with details of his crimes. For the first time, Powell admitted that he had also raped the murder victim. That was evidence of a new aggravated circumstance (i.e., no double jeopardy), and the prosecutor obtained a death sentence. In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Powell's appeal.
Can't Possibly Be True: A Toronto restaurant, Mildred's Temple Kitchen, announced that its Valentine's Day promotion this year would not just be a romantic dinner but would also include an invitation for couples to have sex in the restrooms. Toronto Public Health officials appeared unconcerned, as long as there was no sex in food-preparation areas and as long as the restrooms were clean. "Bodily fluids" were not a concern, said one unruffled health official, because after all, that's what restrooms are for.
Women's rights activists in Uganda finally got the attention of the Western press in December, when London's the Independent verified the plight of Jennipher Alupot, who periodically for seven years had been forced to breastfeed her husband's hunting dogs as she was nursing the couple's own children. Farmer Nathan Awoloi of Pallisa explained that his dogs needed to eat, and since he was forced to send Jennipher's family two milk cows to win her hand, he felt his demands were reasonable.
In January, the Justice Department's inspector general released a long-anticipated report detailing the FBI's post-9/11 corner-cutting in obtaining individual Americans' phone records. Federal law permits such acquisition only with a "terrorism" subpoena ("National Security Letter") unless the FBI documents emergency ("exigent") circumstances to a telecom company. The inspector general found that, from 2002 to 2006, the FBI had representatives of three telecom companies set up in the FBI unit so that agents could request phone records orally, without documentation, and in some cases merely by writing the requested phone numbers on Post-it Notes and sticking them on the telecom employees' workstations. Some of the acquired records were uploaded to the FBI's database.
Inexplicable: Police are still baffled by how Gregory Denny, 37, was able to "deport" Cherrie Belle Hibbard from her home in Hemet, Calif., in January back to her native Philippines. According to Hemet police, Denny, with a gun and fake U.S. marshal's badge and shirt, knocked on Hibbard's door and convinced her that he was there to escort her to the airport and out of the country and that Hibbard's husband had to buy her the ticket. Denny then accompanied Hibbard through airport security and put her onto a flight. Upon questioning by police later, Denny apparently remained in character, continuing to insist that he is a marshal. Denny was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping, impersonating a peace officer and several other charges.
Buffalo, N.Y., television meteorologist Mike Cejka was arrested in December after a brief police chase and charged with trespassing after he was spotted at 4 a.m. tinkering with the covering of a motorcycle in a stranger's yard. Cejka told police he was on his way to work at the station and had merely stopped to admire the motorcycle he had remembered seeing in that yard over the summer. He was wearing a dress shirt and shoes and leather chaps topped by a pair of sweat shorts.
Unclear on the Concept: A 27-year-old man was arrested for trespassing in January in Seattle's Lusty Lady peep-show arcade, whose layout is a strippers' dance stage surrounded by private viewing stalls for customers. According to police, the man climbed from his stall, through a ceiling panel, and navigated the overhead crawl space, which only allowed him to peep at the strippers from a different angle.
In December, British Columbia's District of Sechelt Council approved a bylaw making it illegal for licensed dogs to chase squirrels, seagulls and other wild animals. The councillors added a defense of "provocation" but left it undefined, which might be especially problematic in instances where the dog is the only witness to the alleged provocation.
The Continuing Crisis: In February, the Board of Trustees of Saugatuck Township, Mich., scheduled a May referendum asking voters for an increase in the property tax to cover unanticipated new expenses. The budget overrun was due to the mounting costs of defending lawsuits by people and companies complaining that the township's property taxes are too high.
University of Montreal School of Social Work professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse, intending to research the effects of pornography on men's relationships with women and needing a control group for comparison, advertised in the local community for up to 20 nonusers of pornography, but he was forced to radically alter his research model when no one signed up. Concluded Lajeunesse, in December: "Guys who do not watch pornography do not exist."
Least Competent Criminals: Poorly Conceived: 1) Travis Copeland, 19, bolting from a courtroom in Waukegan, Ill., in January, ran down a hallway and then lowered his shoulder and thrust himself at a window, intending to crash through it to freedom. Courthouse windows are bulletproof, and Copeland merely bounced off, staggered away and fell to the floor in pain. 2) Chamil Guadarrama, 30, was arrested in Springfield, Mass., in February after a store security guard spotted him with 75 bottles of lotion stuffed down his pant legs (which were tied off at the ankles), making him look like a nearly immobile Michelin Man. Said a cop: "[We] could not fit Mr. Guadarrama into the cruiser because ... he could not bend over."
The Jesus and Mary World Tour (Recent Appearances): Rathkeale, Ireland, July (Mary on a tree stump). Apia, Samoa, September (Mary on the outside wall of a church). Velyky Berezny, Ukraine, September (Jesus on the outside wall of a factory). Ravena, N.Y., September (Jesus in a coffee stain on a mason jar). Bishopville, S.C., October (Jesus on a kitchen curtain). Southampton, England, November (Jesus in a flatbread at an Indian restaurant). Methuen, Mass., November (Jesus in a stain on the bottom of an iron). Florissant, Mo., December (Jesus on a splotch in a sink). Jonesborough, Tenn., November (Jesus, morning after morning, in window condensation on a pickup truck). (Apparently, only the three foreign sightings have drawn significant pilgrimage to the sites.)
A News of the Weird Classic (May 2003): Least Competent Circus Knife-Thrower: News of the Weird reported twice on staffing problems of British circus knife-thrower Jayde Hanson. One assistant walked off the job in 2001 after being nearly hit in the foot, which would have been her third wound that season (equaling the number of injuries a previous girlfriend had suffered as Hanson's assistant before she quit the year before). In April 2003, Hanson was performing with his new girlfriend, Yana Rodianova, 22, live on Britain's "This Morning" television show, displaying his world-record form as a speed knife-thrower, when one knife hit Rodianova in the head, drawing blood.
© 2010 CHUCK SHEPHERD