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Sun, 24 Jan 2021
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U.S. Supreme Court poised to take up gay marriage

gay marriage
© Mario Anzuoni/Reuters
When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes behind closed doors Friday, the justices will weigh whether to jump headlong into the historic same-sex marriage debate -- or merely dip their toes in the roiling legal waters.

The high court could decide whether to rule once and for all on California's Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. And it could choose to hear up to eight other cases that challenge the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal benefits to same-sex couples.

Depending on how far the court goes, it could end up legalizing gay marriage nationwide, banning it nationwide, or continuing the current state-by-state experiment in whether gays and lesbians can marry and whether they are entitled to equal benefits under federal law.

All the cases on the court's docket involve lower court decisions declaring gay marriage restrictions unconstitutional.

Both sides in the gay marriage battle and legal experts have little doubt the Supreme Court will take up at least some of the cases to put its stamp on one of the country's most pressing social issues. The mystery is in how far it will go.

If the Supreme Court chooses not to review the challenge to Proposition 8, gay and lesbian couples will have the right to legally marry in California.


Casey Anthony murder trial investigators missed Google search for 'fool-proof' suffocation

Casey Anthony
© Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty
Casey Anthony
The search was made from a computer in Anthony's home on the day her daughter was last seen alive.

Florida sheriff's investigators missed a key piece of evidence - a Google search of "fool-proof" suffocation - in the Casey Anthony murder probe, they acknowledged Sunday.

The search, made from a computer in Anthony's home on the day her daughter was last seen alive, could have helped convict her in the death of 2-year-old Caylee, said Orange County Sheriff's Capt. Angelo Nieves.

"It's just a shame we didn't have it," prosecutor Jeff Ashton told an Orlando TV station.

In July 2011, a jury acquitted Anthony, 24, of murdering Caylee, whose skeletal remains were found six months after she vanished in a wooded area near her home.

Nieves said the sheriff's office's computer investigator missed a June 16, 2008, search made from a computer Anthony used.


Alleged shoplifter dies after being subdued by Walmart workers

The Black Friday shopping weekend apparently took a tragic turn early Sunday morning when an alleged shoplifter died while being apprehended by employees and a contract security officer outside a Lithonia Walmart.

Two associates who helped catch and subdue the suspect before police arrived have been placed on leave; the security officer who police say may have placed the suspected thief in a choke hold, is no longer working for Walmart.

"No amount of merchandise is worth someone's life," Walmart spokesperson Dianna Gee said Sunday in a statement that emphasized that it was early in the investigation into the incident and all the facts were not known yet. "Associates are trained to disengage from situations that would put themselves or others at risk."


Otto Zehm beating: Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. sentenced in death of man with mental disabilities

Otto Zehm
© YouTube
Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. has been sentenced to four years and three months in prison in the 2006 beating death of Otto Zehm.
Spokane, Washington -- A police officer was sentenced Thursday to more than four years in prison for using excessive force against a mentally disabled janitor who died after being erroneously suspected of stealing money from an ATM.

Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr., 65, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle to four years and three months for his role in the 2006 death of Otto Zehm.

Van Sickle said he hoped the sentence would begin to bring closure to Zehm's family and to the Spokane community, which has been at odds with the police department as a result of this case and others.

"This had a significant impact on the community and how it viewed its police department," Van Sickle said.

Van Sickle also ordered that Thompson be taken into custody immediately, over the objections of defense lawyers, who wanted him to remain free while the verdict is appealed.


Witnesses: Jail guards mocked dying inmate

Michael  Saffioti
© Unknown
Everett, Washington -- Rose Saffioti is trying to make the best of Friday night. She's keeping busy at her family restaurant along Mukilteo speedway, but mostly, she's thinking of her son Michael.

"When I have to sleep at night, and close my eyes, it's hard," she said. "Believe me, when I got the call that my son was dead -- I couldn't even -- like, why? Something was wrong."

Earlier this year, Michael went to the Snohomish County jail for one night. He had missed a court date and turned himself in.

He was asthmatic, had anxiety problems and self-medicated with marijuana to calm down. But he didn't have a medical card and it got him into trouble.

Michael was also acutely allergic to dairy. And that early morning changed everything.


Europe mulls banning 'boxes' for abandoned babies

Baby Box
© AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
German pastor Gabriele Stangl says she will never forget the harrowing confession she heard in 1999. A woman said she had been brutally raped, got pregnant and had a baby. Then she killed it and buried it in the woods near Berlin.

Stangl wanted to do something to help women in such desperate situations. So the following year, she convinced Berlin's Waldfriede Hospital to create the city's first so-called "baby box." The box is actually a warm incubator that can be opened from an outside wall of a hospital where a desperate parent can anonymously leave an unwanted infant.

A small flap opens into the box, equipped with a motion detector. An alarm goes off in the hospital to alert staff two minutes after a baby is left.

"The mother has enough time to leave without anyone seeing her," Stangl said. "The important thing is that her baby is now in a safe place."

Baby boxes are a revival of the medieval "foundling wheels," where unwanted infants were left in revolving church doors. In recent years, there has been an increase in these contraptions - also called hatches, windows or slots in some countries - and at least 11 European nations now have them, according to United Nations figures. They are technically illegal, but mostly operate in a gray zone as authorities turn a blind eye.

But they have drawn the attention of human rights advocates who think they are bad for the children and merely avoid dealing with the problems that lead to child abandonment. At a meeting last month, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child said baby boxes should be banned and is pushing that agenda to the European Parliament.

There are nearly 100 baby boxes in Germany. Poland and the Czech Republic each have more than 40 while Italy, Lithuania, Russia and Slovakia have about 10 each. There are two in Switzerland, one in Belgium and one being planned in the Netherlands.

In the last decade, hundreds of babies have been abandoned this way; it's estimated one or two infants are typically left at each location every year, though exact figures aren't available.

"They are a bad message for society," said Maria Herczog, a Hungarian child psychologist on the U.N. committee. "These boxes violate children's rights and also the rights of parents to get help from the state to raise their families," she said.

"Instead of providing help and addressing some of the social problems and poverty behind these situations, we're telling people they can just leave their baby and run away."

Arrow Down

Victims of Sandy discovered homes were burglarized

Burglarized Homes
And if the devastation from Superstorm Sandy wasn't bad enough, now victims are dealing with thieves.

Some residents in queens, New York returned home after Thanksgiving to find their homes ransacked and burglarized.

Police say the bandits didn't go after big items like TV's but instead jewelry and cash.

Burglary victim Dorenda Bainbridge says, "How dare you kick us when we're down? Ya know, that's what you feel in your gut, you feel it deep inside you, it's such a wound."

In the immediate aftermath of Sandy there were reports of looting in hard hit areas from Staten Island to the Jersey Shore.

Some storm victims are warning would-be burglars they have guns and will use them if necessary.


"Honor Labor": Black Friday labor protests could help unions make a comeback

Honor Labor
© Unknown
America is a country of two minds, and we're not talking about the election anymore. When it comes to unions, we feel strongly. Depending on the situation however, we have a tendency to flip flop.

We're pro union when it comes to sports - sometimes. When millionaire players are brattily asking for more millions, like the current NHL lockout, they don't get much sympathy. But when the pro football referees went on strike for more reasonable pay, fans everywhere almost unanimously backed their demands, especially after the Seahawk replacement ref disaster.

The recent Chicago teacher's strike pitting Mayor Rahm Emanuel against the unions was a case study in American's ambivalence toward unions. Everyone wanted the best for the city's kids, but whether or not the teachers were being selfish, or an instrumental part of their welfare was a matter of fiery debate.

Most recently, on Black Friday, thousands of Walmart employees collectively protested low wages, alleged unsafe working conditions, and unreasonable hours. This map from the Corporate Action Network shows that strikes occurred across the country. According to The Nation's Josh Eidelson's liveblog of the strikes, as of 2:00pm on Friday "there [were] Black Friday strikers in at least 100 cities and protests in forty-six states."


Bangladesh clothes factory fire kills 112 slaves in Dhaka

A firefighter tries to control a fire at a garment factory in Savar on the outskirts of Dhaka
Blaze broke out at the seven-storey factory on Saturday and firefighters recovered more than 100 bodies on Sunday morning

At least 112 people have been killed in a fire that raced through a multi-storey garment factory just outside of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

The blaze broke out at the seven-storey factory operated by Tazreen Fashions late on Saturday. By Sunday morning, firefighters had recovered 100 bodies, fire department operations director major Mohammad Mahbub said.

He said another 12 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died at hospitals.

The death toll could rise as the search for victims was continuing, he said.


Blaming the victim: RCMP issues latest denial in string of harassment lawsuits

RCMP, Royal Canadian Mountain Police
Vancouver, British Columbia - The RCMP has issued its latest denial in a series of harassment lawsuits filed by female Mounties.

The latest case involves Const. Karen Katz, who has launched two lawsuits - the first alleging harassment by one of her colleagues, and a second alleging widespread harassment and abuse throughout her career on the force.

The RCMP already issued a statement of defence earlier this year denying the allegations in Katz's first lawsuit, which targeted Corp. Baldev (David) Singh Bamra, an officer who Katz worked with in the Vancouver area. Bamra has also denied all of her allegations.

The Mounties filed a statement of defence last week in Katz's second lawsuit. In that suit, filed in July, Katz alleged she was harassed, bullied and sexually harassed by various colleagues and superiors from when she joined the force in 1988 until she went on medical leave for post-traumatic stress in 2009.

The RCMP's statement of defence denies all of Katz's allegations and says the officer should have launched a formal grievance if she had concerns that needed to be addressed.

"Many of the alleged acts of harassment, conflict and intimidation alleged (by Katz) were first brought to the RCMP's attention with the filing of this notice of claim," said the statement of defence, filed in B.C. Supreme Court.