-Richard Blake took the witness stand in Ottawa, Ontario, in January to deny that it was he who had invaded a home and stabbed two people numerous times. With a straight face, he had an answer for all of the incriminating evidence. He had the perp's car because “a stranger” had just handed him the keys; he didn't recall what the stranger looked like (but guessed that he probably resembled Blake, because for some reason Blake got picked out of the lineup); he donned the stranger's bloody knit cap (abandoning his own cap); he handled the stranger's knife and bloody glove, and that's why his DNA was on them; he fled at the first sight of police, ramming a cruiser to escape (even though he had “done nothing wrong”); he fled on foot after the collision and hid in a tree (but only to get away from a swarm of black flies). After deliberating politely for a day, the jury found him guilty.
-A 61-year-old man in southern Sweden beat a DUI charge in February even though his blood-alcohol was five times over the legal limit. The man told the judge he is a hearty drinker and normally starts in even before work every day, with “no effect” on his performance. According to the Skanskan newspaper, that must have impressed the judge, who was so awed that he tossed out the charge.
-A longtime high school teacher of French and Spanish is suing the Mariemont, Ohio, school district for having pressured her to resign in the face of what she calls her phobia, a “fear of kids” disorder, which she says should be protected by disability-discrimination law. Maria Waltherr-Willard, 61, had been reassigned to teach some junior high students, but doctors said she suffered hypertension, nightmares, chest pains and vomiting when around the younger-age children.
-Lisa Biron's recent biography shows her to be a licensed lawyer in two states, practicing in Manchester, N.H., and also affiliated with a group of volunteer lawyers that advocates “religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family,” and issues warnings about the “homosexual agenda.” (She recently represented a church in Concord, N.H., and served on the board of directors of a Christian school in Manchester.) In January, Biron was convicted in federal court in Concord on nine counts involving taking her teenage daughter to Canada and creating child pornography.
The Litigious Society
-In September 2010, a speeding, intoxicated driver ran a stop sign near Dade City, Fla., careened off a highway, and rammed two trees along a private road, instantly killing himself and his passenger. In January, the estate of the passenger filed a lawsuit for wrongful death, charging the residents along the private road with letting the trees grow in a dangerous location where they could be easily hit, especially since the residents had failed to light the area adequately. “How it's our fault, I have no idea,” said one surprised resident, who noted that the entire neighborhood had mourned the strangers at the time of the sad, traumatic collision.
-Keith Brown and four other inmates at Idaho's Kuna prison filed a lawsuit in December against eight major beer and liquor manufacturers for having sold them alcohol at an early age without warning of its addictiveness -- and are thus responsible for the men's subsequent lives of crime. Brown, 52, said he personally has been locked up a total of 30 years and is now serving time for manslaughter. (The Oglala Sioux tribe has sued beer distributors and the state of Nebraska for enabling easy access to nearby beer even though it was banned on the reservation. The lawsuit was dismissed on jurisdictional issues, but the tribe may refile soon.)
-Jason Starn, formerly a law student at the Laurence Drivon School of Law in Stockton, Calif., filed a lawsuit recently against three Stockton-Modesto-area “head shops” that had sold him Whip-It nitrous oxide, which led him to overindulge and eventually suffer spinal-cord degeneration. Starn's attorney told the Sacramento Bee, “At first, he felt a little embarrassed about” filing the lawsuit (but managed to overcome the shame in order to warn all the other nitrous-oxide abusers).
-(1) A 53-year-old Rosenheim, Germany, postal worker was relieved of criminal charges in January when a judge ruled him innocent of discarding mail (as jealous “whistle-blowers” had charged) after concluding that the carrier finished routes early simply because he worked faster. Although the charge was dropped, he was reprimanded for taking unauthorized (i.e., simpler) routes. (2) After a 400-pound woman broke both arms accidentally falling through a sidewalk in New York City in January, doctors told her that a thinner woman might have died from the same fall. “Thank God, they said that my size was the only thing that saved me.”
-Faith healer Ariel Ben Sherman, 78, died in November in a South Carolina hospital after suffering respiratory arrest while being treated for small-cell cancer. He had been found guilty in May 2012 of neglect in the cancer death of a 15-year-old girl (of whom he had accepted the title of “spiritual father”) for his insistence that the girl's mother reject medical care and treat the girl only with prayer.
People With Issues
Australian researchers recently uncovered a minor prison phenomenon in that country that might shed light on isolated cases reported in southwest U.S. prisons (mentioned in News of the Weird in 2012): inmates inserting objects underneath the skin of their penises, somehow under the impression that (a) it doesn't hurt and (b) it provides sexual pleasure and virility. Among the items discovered in Australia: buttons, dice, deodorant roller balls. The apparent favorite among the several Hispanic men discovered in the U.S. Southwest: shaved dominoes. In many cases, infections resulted and sometimes required major surgery.
From a tag on an item of clothing offered recently at a new-item price by the retailer Urban Outfitters: “This unique found item was hand-selected for you from a yard sale or flea market. Any tears, holes, paint stains or other 'defects' we consider a virtue and not a flaw. Wear it well.” Consequently, an item that might have been donated overseas or to a Goodwill or Salvation Army store is sold to “urban” clotheshounds at “new” prices. Urban Outfitters defended the practice, calling any such items “curated” by their expert store buyers, “hand-picked” for their “uniqueness,” and sometimes “truly one-of-a-kind, which means that once they're gone, they're gone.”
In December, a 38-year-old male worker at the Social Security office in Baltimore was issued a formal reprimand after coworkers complained that he prodigiously passed gas at his desk. He had been counseled informally in the summer of 2012, and to satisfy “due process,” a log was made later listing 60 specific emissions on 17 separate dates, with, for example, nine blasts on Sept. 19. Seven days after the letter of reprimand was issued, “senior management” at the agency learned of it and withdrew it, without comment, according to a Washington Post report.