News of the Weird

Week of September 1, 1996

-- Sex offender registration laws, which permit towns to learn when a sex offender has been released from jail into their communities, have been criticized recently as interfering with offenders' ability to start new lives, but the main shortcoming of the laws in several states appears to be their ineffectiveness. Said an Illinois State Police spokesman in June, of the many bogus addresses on his state's register, "It's the responsibility of the offender to provide [accurate] information." In Arkansas, a state with at least 1,000 sex offenders behind bars at any one time, the register contains only 50 names, but a state police spokesman in June said the fault was the sex offenders' for not being responsible enough to register.

-- 'Roid Rage: In July, police in Brooklyn, N.Y., accused Gail Murphy, 47, bedridden on her stomach while recovering from hemorrhoid surgery, of shooting her husband to death because he had gone on a six-hour fishing trip. Said a police investigator, "She felt that her husband didn't demonstrate that he cared for her on that particular day."

-- Hillsborough County (Fla.) sheriff's deputies charged Jeffrey Alan McLeod, 29, with robbing a Chevron gas station in August, then fleeing. He was caught after a brief chase when his car ran out of gas. Said a sheriff's spokesman, "When you're going to rob a gas station ... you're supposed to fill up the tank before you rob the clerk."

COURTROOM ANTICS

-- During a Tirana, Albania, divorce hearing in July, in which a man was contending that his wife beat him regularly over the course of their two-year union, the wife suddenly leaped at the man and beat him unconscious before she was restrained. The judge quickly granted the divorce.

-- In August, Cleveland, Ohio, judge Shirley Strickland Saffold, 45, attempting to counsel defendant Katie Nemeth to get her life together, recommended in court that she should get a better boyfriend than the one she has: "Men are easy. You can go sit in the bus stop, put on a short skirt, cross your legs and pick up 25. Ten of them will give you their money. If you don't pick up the first 10, then all you got to do is open your legs a little bit and cross them at the bottom."

-- In June, a California appeals court ruled against defendant Thomas Keister, who had been charged with attempted lewd acts against two underage girls in San Bernardino County. The court made the ruling even though the victims and the defendant do not exist. The "victims" were fictional (part of a police sting to entice pedophiles), and Mr. Keister died last year.

-- Detroit lawyer Leonard Jaques, 68, was fined $11,000 for a May courtroom outburst in which he verbally abused an opposing lawyer, then yanked his hair and threw him to the floor. (In a widely reported courtroom outburst in 1983 in Cleveland, Ohio, Jaques achieved notoriety by giving a federal judge the excuse for missing a court date that he had "screaming itches in the crotch.")

-- In July, Rhode Island Workers' Compensation Court Judge Debra Olsson awarded convicted murderer Antonino Cucinotta $18,500 in benefits. Cucinotta, a former Mafioso serving 60 years at an undisclosed prison as part of the federal Witness Protection Program, injured his head at a construction site in 1988 but was improperly cut off from benefits on the date of his arrest in 1994, rather than on the date of his conviction in 1995.

WELL-PUT

-- X-rated film actress Nina Hartley, telling a June news conference in Sacramento, Calif., that her films serve an important need -- promoting romance by warming up the viewers: "It's no different than Hamburger Helper."

-- Self-described "fishing fanatic" Tom Getherall of East Moriches, Long Island, telling a New York Daily News reporter the day after the crash of TWA Flight 800: "I felt bad when I heard about the wreck, real bad, but to be honest with you, the first thing I wondered was how it would affect the fishing."

-- John P. Royster, 47, serving a life sentence for murder, waxing nostalgic to a New York Times reporter in June about the joyous childhood of his son, John J. Royster, 22, who had just been charged with the vicious killing of a New York City dry cleaner: "He's a chip off the old block."

-- Canadian food inspector Pamela Morgan, warning the public in March after the death of a British Columbia man: "We caution the public not to eat seafood that glows in the dark." (Some bacteria in raw seafood are indeed luminescent, she said.)

-- Football star Deion Sanders, arrested for trespassing at a fishing hole near Fort Myers, Fla., in June: "The only defense I have is that I'm sorry but they were biting."

THINNING THE HERD

In June, a heavily suntan-oiled, 19-year-old man fell 10 stories to his death while "crabbing" (climbing from balcony to balcony) on a beachfront condominium in Panama City Beach, Fla. Two weeks later, in Barnstable, Mass., an 18-year-old man fell to his death while "car surfing" (standing atop a moving car). Also in June, at least 15 people dancing on the roofs of two buses enroute to an election rally near Dhaka, Bangladesh, were killed when the buses passed underneath high-voltage wires.

UPDATE

More Italian Justice: In August, Germano Maccari, freshly convicted of the 1978 murder of former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro, was released from jail pending his appeal, as is customary under Italian law. In March, the man who murdered an American during the Achille Lauro hijacking failed to return to his Italian prison following a 12-day furlough for good behavior. Last year, The Washington Post reported that members of a traveling prisoners' theatrical group in Italy used their performance disguises in bank robberies they pulled off while they were free between shows. And last year, a gang of AIDS-stricken bank robbers were released to pull off more jobs because Italian law forbids imprisoning people with AIDS.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 8306, St. Petersburg, Fla. 33738, or 74777.3206@compuserve.com.)

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