-- Former pro football player Rae Carruth's elaborate defense to the charge of ordering his pregnant girlfriend's murder (semi-successful, in that he was convicted in January only of conspiracy) was financed by the state of North Carolina because the well-paid Carruth convinced Judge Charles Lamm that he was "indigent," according to court documents that Lamm had kept sealed for six months but which were discovered in January by the Charlotte Observer. Carruth earned about $38,000 a week during the 1999 season, and when the prosecutor suggested the motive for the killing was to spare Carruth child-support payments, Carruth countered by pointing out that he made enough money (net worth: $360,000) to easily support a child.
-- In January, Nicholas Griffin, owner of video stores in York and Grimsby, England, was fined about $9,900 by a magistrates' court under the Trade Descriptions Act for marketing ordinary feature films (such as the 1973 Jack Palance comedy "Secrets of a Sensuous Nurse") as "hard-core" sex videos. Said Griffin, "I am amazed people have the audacity to complain about things like that."
British Antarctic Survey personnel (and helicopters) are now in the Falkland Islands specifically to learn whether penguins do, indeed, topple over when following the path of an aircraft overhead. Also, a team of researchers from the at-Bristol center, using "arousal monitors," found that 20 of the 25 surveyed members of Parliament appear more emotionally aroused by the sight of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher than by the sight of local glamour personality Denise Van Outen in a skimpy dress. And, commenting on a Bremen University (Germany) study on gambling as an addiction, British psychologist Mark Griffiths and British gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh said in November that the findings should apply, as well, to the addictive activity of gardening; said Titchmarsh, "Once you've discovered the thrill of making things grow, you can't stop."
-- Former police officer Edward Ludaescher and a partner were charged in November after allegedly attempting to rob an Oxnard, Calif., bank, but Ludaescher said it was all a misunderstanding, that he really was only studying up on the mind of the bank robber for a police training video he and the partner were planning to make. (However, prosecutors said that the two men badly needed money, having recently defaulted on a $200,000 loan for developing a pepper spray gun.)
-- John Bradley Park's defense at his drunk-driving trial in Llano, Texas, in October was that he was perfectly sober while driving on the night of July 4, 1999, even though his car might have been swerving on the road, but that while sitting in the driver's seat after police officer Jody Deatherage pulled him over, he quickly began drinking, and that by the time he reached the medical facility to test his blood-alcohol content, he was drunk. (He was nevertheless convicted.)
-- Twenty-six years after Mel Lastman (who is now mayor of Toronto) paid off a former long-time, married girlfriend, with whom he had had two sons, in a private settlement, the sons (now age 41 and 38) filed a lawsuit against Lastman, complaining of low self-esteem, anxiety, humiliation and delay in their personal development, for which they want Lastman to pay them $4 million (U.S.) more. Nevertheless, said the 19-year-old son of one of the plaintiffs, the lawsuit is "not about the money."
-- According to his campaign manager Jose A. Riesco, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida did not retain illegal campaign contributions in the bank for eight months rather than issue immediate refunds as legally required and as he promised to do. Rather, Riesco told the Miami Business Review in December, all 45 refund checks (totaling nearly $30,000) were mailed out on time in February 2000. The reason none of the 45 recipients ever cashed their checks over the next eight months, said Riesco, was that somehow every single one of the 45 checks was lost in the mail, "poorly addressed, things like that," thus allowing Diaz-Balart full use of the illegal money for the recent campaign. Riesco denied any wrongdoing.
-- In Edwardsville, Ill., in November, Kwayera "Q" Jackson, 18, was sentenced to 40 years in prison in the death of his 5-month-old son, whom authorities determined was killed by a blow to his intestines. Jackson (a recent high school football standout) said he might have gently thumped the boy's stomach, but only because he was trying to build up his abs so that he would be a better athlete when he grew up.
-- In November, a jury in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., awarded Harvard undergraduate student Patricia Ryan, 36, $363,000 from the Cabaret nightclub for a 1994 injury in her previous occupation as a stripper. In her act, Ryan was a fire-breather, but after accidentally dribbling out some of the 151-proof stage booze, her chest caught fire, causing second-degree burns. The Cabaret's attorney said, "We didn't cause the fire," but Ryan argued that the club's employees declined to help her during the emergency.
In January, Gainesville (Fla.) police charged James Anthony Harmon, 39, with fraud after finding his house cluttered from floor to ceiling with as much as $200,000 worth of unopened cartons of merchandise ordered under various credit-card names from Home Shopping Network. It appeared that very few HSN-ordered items were actually in use in the home. Said Harmon, "I just shop a lot." According to the Gainesville Sun, Harmon's neighbors said he is "a loner who often kept to himself."
Accidentally shooting yourself in the head with a nail gun is rarely fatal, as readers of News of the Weird know from several stories in which construction workers have inadvertently plugged themselves and earned little more than a terrific souvenir x-ray. In January 2001, a 25-year-old construction worker in Bethlehem, Pa., tempted fate by firing a dozen shots into his skull with his nail gun, but with a purpose in mind: He was in agony from having just accidentally severed his hand in a mitre saw mishap and thought somehow that he could divert some of the pain (which doctors said is quite possible to do). At press time, he was hospitalized in stable condition after surgery to reattach the hand (and to remove the nails).
In November, Mr. Auburn Mason, 62, was sentenced to four years in prison in England for a 1999 British Airways hijacking. He had grabbed a flight attendant, held scissors to her neck, and threatened additionally to blow up the plane, yelling, "Take me to Gatwick (airport, London)!" At that point, the flight was 15 minutes away from its scheduled destination, which was Gatwick airport. Mason was disarmed after observers realized the "bomb" was a pocket dictating machine.
A 33-year-old mother was charged with felonious failure to prevent child sex abuse, by giving her 13-year-old son condoms to facilitate sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend (the "abuser") (Milwaukee). Vietnam vet Harry Hunt got his waist-length hair cut, ending his eight-year boycott of the clippers in protest of draft-dodging Bill Clinton's presidency (Mexico, Mo.). A 34-year-old man was charged with forcing a woman to have sex by wielding a live hand grenade (York, Maine). A circus-performing archer missed the apple on his wife/assistant's head for the first time in 14 years, sending her to the hospital with a catastrophic wound below the eye (Paris).
(Send your Weird News to Chuck Shepherd, P.O. Box 18737, Tampa, Fla. 33679 or Weird@compuserve.com, or go to www.NewsoftheWeird.com/.)