National news briefs • 09.02.11

Judge puts trial on hold in case against Dan Choi

WASHINGTON — Dan Choi may be closer to having charges against him dropped after the judge in his case put the trial on hold this week.

Choi, a gay former Army lieutenant, was arrested for handcuffing himself to the White House fence in November 2010 to protest “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Choi was dismissed from the Army under the policy.

Choi was arrested two other times earlier in 2010 for similar White House protests. However, charges in those instances were brought against him in local court.

This case is being tried in federal court and he faces six months in jail and a fine. Choi’s attorney claims he is being treated differently and harshly prosecuted because is outspoken and gay.

In putting the trial on hold, the judge said that he believes Choi has shown — at least preliminarily — that he is being treated differently.

The government prosecutor, Angela George, said that she plans to have the judge’s actions reviewed by a higher court. She said that Choi is being treated no differently than the other protesters. Choi attorney Robert Feldman said that he believes the judge’s actions mean that his client has “effectively won the case” and charges will eventually be dismissed.
The trial is on hold for 10 days.

Others arrested in the case accepted a plea deal of no jail time in exchange for pleading guilty with the condition of no further arrest for four months. Choi rejected that deal.

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Death penalty recommended in case of man who murdered family

LYNDON, Kan. — A jury recommended the death penalty for James Kraig Kahler who was on trial in Kansas for killing four family members in November 2009. Final sentencing by the judge is set for Oct. 11.

Kahler is the former city utilities director in Weatherford.

After 23 years of marriage, his wife filed for divorce. She was a fitness trainer at a Weatherford gym and had been seeing another woman she worked with after Kahler tried to initiate a three-way sexual relationship with his wife and the other woman.

Kahler moved to his parent’s home outside Topeka weeks before the murder.

His son Sean, now 12, testified that he saw his father shoot his mother.

In addition to his wife, Kahler killed her grandmother and their two daughters, ages 18 and 16. Sean testified that he was not threatened during the shooting rampage.

The defense argued that the affair affected Kahler’s state of mind. They argued for life in prison because, they said, he was out of control emotionally and suffering deep depression when he committed the murders.

Under Kansas law, mental illness is only a defense if it prevents the defendant from forming the intent to kill or acting with premeditation.

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Jury unable to reach verdict in trial of teen accused of killing classmate

LOS ANGELES — A jury was unable to reach a verdict in deliberations that began on Monday, Aug. 29 in the murder case of Brandon McInerney, who is accused of shooting his gay classmate, Lawrence King, in their computer class in Oxnard, Calif., in February 2008. The judge declared a mistrial.

In closing arguments, the prosecution said that McInerney, whose attorneys claimed shot King in a panic after King repeatedly flirted with him, was lying in wait and planned the killing ahead of time. They claimed the defense was using gay panic as an excuse.

The defense said McInerney was in a dissociative state when he killed King. They claim he was not completely aware of what he was doing and said he grew up in a violent household and was sexually harassed by King.

One of the jurors is a college student who started classes this week. Ventura County Judge Charles Campbell is allowing the jury to deliberate around her schedule.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity.

The murder took place when McInerney was 14, but he is being tried as an adult. Now 17, he faces up to a 50-year prison term, although jurors may consider a conviction of voluntary manslaughter with a 14 to 21 year sentence.

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Prosecutors: Man filmed with Clementi should stay anonymous

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Prosecutors say the identity of a man recorded on a webcam in a gay intimate encounter with a New Jersey university student who killed himself should remain a secret.

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office filed a motion Monday, Aug. 29, asking a judge to withhold the name of the man, identified only as M.B.

The Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark reports the request came in response to a motion filed by lawyers for Dharun Ravi, who is accused of spying on Rutgers University roommate Tyler Clementi and is charged with bias intimidation and invasion of privacy.

Clementi killed himself last September after his encounter with M.B. was transmitted online. His suicide sparked national discussion about bullying.

Ravi’s lawyers say they believe M.B. has information that could help their client’s case but they don’t know his name.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: 6 Marble Falls teens accused of sending threatening anti-gay texts to opposing QB

A plea bargain is likely for six Marble Falls teens accused of sending anti-gay and threatening text messages to a Dripping Springs football player. KXAN in Austin reports:

The messages contained homosexual slurs and profanities.

An arrest warrant shows one message said, “You better be prepared to get ripped limb from to ******* limb Friday night you big *****.”

Another read, “Oh, so you are going to be a little ***** and not text back *****?”

Lt. Leroy Opiela with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office said the Dripping Springs football player found those messages on his phone and told his parents.

An upcoming football game between the Marble Falls Mustangs and Dripping Springs Tigers was apparently behind the messages.

The six 17-year-olds are charged with harssment via telephone, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail. However, under the plea deal, they’ll avoid jail time in exchange for completing community service, write letters of apology and take a bullying class.

—  John Wright

Flight attendant Steven Slater appears in court, will undergo mental health evaluation

Treatment could be part of deal to avoid jail time; attorney cites client’s HIV-positive status as one source of stress

COLLEEN LONG  |  Associated Press

NEW YORK — The flight attendant accused of onboard antics that captured the nation’s attention when he told off a passenger and slid down the plane’s emergency chute with a beer will undergo a mental health evaluation with the aim of avoiding jail time in a possible plea deal.

Steven Slater, dressed in a trim blue suit, appeared in a Queens courtroom Tuesday, Sept. 7 for a brief hearing on charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing after last month’s meltdown aboard a JetBlue Airways Corp. flight from Pittsburgh that had just landed at Kennedy International Airport.

He was working Aug. 9 when, he said, an argument took place with a rude passenger. After landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, he went on the public address system, swore at a passenger who he claimed had treated him rudely, grabbed a beer and exited via an emergency chute, prosecutors said.

Attorneys on both sides said a deal was being discussed. Slater will be evaluated and may qualify for an alternative sentencing program, which means he could face community service and counseling instead of jail.

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Slater’s willingness to be evaluated shows he’s taking the charges more seriously than he had in the past. Slater had spoken out after the incident, as his public opinion swelled and hundreds of thousands of fans online cheered him for standing up to the inhospitable world of airline travel.

The district attorney, speaking to reporters after the hearing, said it would behoove the public to take the Aug. 9 incident more seriously, noting the slide cost $25,000 to repair and the plane had to be taken out of service afterward, causing passenger delays.

“It’s no laughing matter,” he said.

Slater’s attorney, Daniel J. Horwitz, said his client was taking the matter very seriously and said he had been under tremendous pressure because of his terminally ill mother, recently deceased father, and health problems of his own. (Slater is HIV positive.) He said he was hoping prosecutors would take into account Slater’s “long-standing and well-regarded reputation in the industry.”

Horwitz said he hopes they can come to an agreement that favorably resolves the case, but he wouldn’t specify what he was looking for. Brown said if Slater is admitted for alternative sentencing, he could undergo a treatment program lasting weeks, but he said it depended on the outcome of the evaluation and he’s not ruling out the possibilty of jail time yet.

Slater, his head held high, left the court without speaking to the swell of reporters surrounding him. His publicist and attorney said he’s in good spirits and has spent the past few weeks in California with his ailing mother.

Slater resigned from JetBlue last week after about three years there; JetBlue said only that he was no longer an employee. Slater has spent nearly 20 years in the airline industry, but it’s not clear what he’s going to do now.

“Right now we want to get past the criminal issues. Then we’ll worry about the future,” publicist Howard Bragman said. “Obviously he will be unemployed until all this is resolved.”

JetBlue suspended Slater after the incident. It told employees in a memo that press coverage was not taking into account how much harm can be caused by emergency slides, which are deployed with a potentially deadly amount of force.

—  John Wright