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Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011

Chuck Shepherd's News of the Weird

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May Cause Head to Spin

The recently released update of the official index for classifying medical conditions—for research, quality control and insurance claims—replaced the current 18,000 codes with 140,000 much more specific ones, set to take effect in October 2013. A September Wall Street Journal report noted, for example, 72 different codes for injuries involving birds, depending on the type. "Bitten by turtle" is different from "struck by turtle." Different codes cover injuries in opera houses and on squash courts, as well as exactly where in or around a mobile home an injury occurred. "Walked into lamppost, initial encounter" is distinct from "walked into lamppost, subsequent encounter." Codes cover conditions stemming from ironing mishaps and "burn due to water skis on fire." "Bizarre personal appearance" has a code, as does "very low level of personal hygiene."

Not As Advertised

The Patriot Act, drafted in the days after 9/11 and quickly enacted into law, was said to be designed expressly to give prosecutors more leeway to challenge suspected terrorism. Between 2006 and 2009, however, one of its key provisions has been used more than 100 times as often for drug investigations as for terrorism. New York magazine reported in September that during those years "sneak and peek" warrants (enabling searches without notifying the targets) have been obtained 1,618 times in drug cases, compared to only 15 times for terrorism threats.

Compelling Explanations

  • Unclear on the Concept: (1) Pennsylvania state Rep. Michael Sturla, an opponent of increased natural-gas drilling in his district, warned in August that one effect of the drilling would be an increase of sexually transmitted diseases "amongst the womenfolk." He said later that he had heard that from a hospital administrator. (2) Nicholas Davis was arrested in a public park in Seattle in August while, according to a police officer, "masturbating violently." The officer said Davis explained, "There just isn't enough free love in Seattle."
  • Cicero, Ill., Town President Larry Dominick, accused of sexual harassment against two female employees, gave depositions in court cases in March 2009 and February 2011. One question seemed especially challenging to him. Asked in 2009 whether he had "ever touched" one of the women, Dominick, under oath, said, "No." However, in 2011, Dominick (again under oath) gave a narrative of his relationship with the same woman beginning in 2005, admitting that he had had sex with her numerous times at her home. Dominick claimed to have misinterpreted the earlier question.


Least Competent Criminals

Anthony Watson, sentenced to prison in 1992 for crimes that included rape and robbery, became a notorious jailhouse lawyer. He even drafted a book, titled A Guide to the Plea Circus, and through successful challenges had reduced his 160-year sentence to 26—and a release date of 2018. However, he went on to file one appeal too many. A court ruled in his favor on that final appeal and ordered a new trial altogether—vacating not only the convictions and sentence, but also the reductions Watson had worked to attain. At the retrial in March 2011, he was found guilty again. And this time he was sentenced to four consecutive life terms.

A News of the Weird Classic

Overenthusiastic Parent/Sports Involvement: In October 1995, Richard King, 36, pleaded guilty to making threatening and obscene phone calls to two boys who were star players on his son's Little League team in Blue Springs, Mo., to get them to reconsider their plans to quit the team. According to prosecutors, King called the boys several times while he was on a business trip in China and threatened to kill one kid and his parents and to commit sodomy on the kid's whole family.

© 2011 Chuck Shepherd

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