News of the Weird

Week of May 23, 2004


In May, in the latest blooming of the lawyers' class-action money tree, California law firms asked a court to approve $258 million in fees for their handling of a lawsuit against Microsoft Corp., amounting to $3,000 an hour for the lead attorney (who billed for 6,000 hours of his own time, even though three dozen lawyers from more than 30 firms had a piece of the case) and $1,000 an hour for administrative work, all for the following consumer bonanza: Each victim will get a coupon worth $5 to $29 toward the purchase of another Microsoft product (coupons that are often routinely ignored by consumers in these settlements, as not worth the bother).

Finer Points of the Law

In April, a judge in Ocala, Fla., sentenced a 27-year-old man to probation-only for having sex with his then-girlfriend's rottweiler (with the man admitting that he had a "lifelong problem") and lamented that under state law, the man could not be forced to register as a sex offender, since the victim was a dog. Also in April, authorities in Nashville, Tenn., charged Metro News with violating the state's Sunday-closing law for adult businesses, but the owner said he would fight it since he had recently tried to avoid the law by occupying most of his floor space with a Sunday-law-acceptable retail furniture and garden business (although his sign still said customers had to be age 18 or older to shop for furniture).

Government in Action

Although 50 countries (including Japan) have now banned American beef because of inadequate mad-cow controls, the U.S. Department of Agriculture not only has declined to order widespread testing but has even prohibited one farm, Creekstone (Campbellsburg, Ky.), from voluntarily testing. USDA said such conscientious testing would imply that America's entire 35 million yearly slaughters should be tested (which the industry says is too expensive, even though Japan requires universal testing for its beef). USDA said it aims to test only 40,000 cows, up from 20,000 for the last two years (although it has been unable for nine months now to document those tests in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by United Press International).

Can't Possibly Be True

-- Until March, Mr. Dayn Riegel and his girlfriend kept 77 cats in their house in Lawrenceville, Ga., but a Humane Society spokesman said he saw no problem, in that all appeared to be in good health and well-fed, and Riegel's home was clean (though filled with litter boxes). Riegel recorded each cat's history on a computer database, provided one packaged meal and one special meal a day for each, and turned over 60 pounds of cat litter a week. (During a recent move from the home, Riegel gave away just a few of the cats.)

-- Veteran schoolteacher Carrie Peoples, 63, quit her job in April in Covington, Ga., after an incident in which she responded to a trash-talking 14-year-old student by ordering two male classmates to toss the girl out of an open window (even though it was a first-floor window); the boys dutifully complied, for fear of punishment. And two-year teacher Jason Schoenberger, 24, was suspended from PS 279 in Brooklyn, N.Y., in March after he hung a 5-year-old student on a closet coatrack (supposedly with the kid's permission) just to see the shock on a colleague's face when he walked in to the closet.

-- Sweden's Parliamentary Ombudsmen's office in Stockholm, looking through some old environmental records recently, discovered that in 1986 a regional environmental court in Jaemtland province had denied a resort-development permit to a builder on the ground that the Loch Ness-resembling "Storsjoe monster" (serpentlike body, catlike head, first rumored in 1635) often "sighted" there had been declared endangered. Declared the ruling, "(I)t is prohibited to kill, hurt or catch animals of the Storsjoe monster species" or to "take away or hurt the monster's eggs, roe or den."

-- In April, the Virginia Supreme Court turned down the petition for a new trial for Aleck J. Carpitcher, who was sentenced in 1999 to 38 years in prison for molesting an 11-year-old girl even though she recently told authorities she made up the whole incident to punish Carpitcher, who was at the time dating the girl's mother. The justices cited state law, which allows consideration of "new evidence" only if it is submitted within three weeks of the sentencing date.

-- The Boston Herald reported in April that the Massachusetts Treatment Center, at which the state's pedophiles and rapists are housed, was using a controversial aversion therapy that some experts say includes providing convict-patients with illegal child pornography and forcing them to masturbate repeatedly, past the threshold of pain, in the belief that child images will thus eventually become uninviting.

People With Issues

New Hampshire state Rep. John Kerns resigned in February while on the verge of expulsion for, among other things, writing "State of New Hampshire" on some personal checks (later dishonored) to feign officialness and for threatening violence after unsuccessfully demanding a private parking space; he appeared at one court hearing wearing a black cape to, as he said, improve his credibility as a defendant. Also, presidential candidate Robert Haines, 57, of New Hampshire, was arrested while campaigning in Virginia in April after he threatened to kill a police dog over a parking ticket dispute; last year, at a Dartmouth College football game, Haines tried to commandeer the public address system and ceremonially "throw out the first football" (which is only done in baseball).

Least Competent Criminals

A man, perhaps not all that incompetent, took $180 from another in a home robbery in Covington, Ky., in April. The money was handed over by the victim only because he was late in noticing that the gun the man was holding had no barrel. As the robber ran out, the victim called police, and neighbors joined in a search, but the only thing that was found nearby, according to the Kentucky Post, was discarded clothing and "pieces of a gun."

Recurring Themes

A 2003 News of the Weird report heralded a rural Peruvian doctor, on a mountain far from a hospital, for performing lifesaving surgery to relieve swelling in a man's skull, using only a carpenter's drill and pliers. In a similar incident near Ketchum, Idaho, in December (with med-evac helicopters grounded by a blizzard), Dr. Keith Sivertson likewise saved Ben King's life, but using a Makita power drill from a clinic's maintenance shop.

More Things to Worry About

In April, Sheryl Hardy, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for her role in the brutal death of her 2-year-old son in 1989 in Florida, asked the Department of Family Services in Illinois (where she now lives after early release) for the parenting equivalent of a golf "mulligan" by petitioning to be allowed to raise her follow-up baby, who had been immediately taken from her by the state after she gave birth in 2001. And in Edinburgh, Scotland, bus drivers are apparently subjected to so much abuse that transit officials recently gave all 1,800 operators DNA-collecting kits so that they can swab themselves when passengers spit on them.

(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679 or or go to

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like News of the Weird