Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008

Knee-Deep in Trouble

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According to police, four kids—ranging in age from 9 to 14—grabbed a donation box at RiverPlace park in Bethlehem, Pa., in August, and took off running(The donation box held contributions for an organization that maintains the park’s portable toilets.) The kids ran for some nearby woods, with several police officers in pursuit. Three of the boys were caught before they made it into the woods, but one of them managed to make it to the apparent safety of the trees. Shortly thereafter, however, the kid fell into a manure pit built by homeless people at their encampment.

Compelling Explanations

Jonathan Williams, 33, was convicted of cocaine possession in England’s Guildford Crown Court in July, when jurors rejected his explanation that the pants he had on—which contained cocaine—were not actually his. That explanation also failed in August in Naples, Fla., for Richard Obdyke, 19, when police found a stolen debit card in his pants. (In both cases, the men said they had no idea whose pants they were wearing.) And in August in Corpus Christi, Texas, a 25-year-old man was arrested for drug possession during a traffic stop, despite telling police, “It’s not my truck,” and, “If you find some thing, it’s not mine,” as well as, “If there’s anything in that black bag, it’s not mine.”

In July, Leroy Mcafee, 55, was charged in Austin, Texas, with molesting an 11-year-old girl. Mcafee confessed to police that he had molested two other girls as well, but he refused to describe the incidents because he wanted to save that information for his autobiography.

About Time

Italian and U.K. authorities recently discarded legal interpretations based on embarrassingly anachronistic stereotypes of women. In July, Italy’s Court of Cassation reversed a 1999 ruling creating a legal presumption that a woman wearing tight jeans could not be the victim of rape because such jeans would be impossible to remove without her assistance. Around the same time, the British government formally removed the special defense of “provocation” for husbands charged with murdering their wives, thus putting domestic homicide on the same footing as other homicides. (Some husbands had received lesser penalties by claiming that their wives’ affairs had provoked them to murder.)

The Continuing Crisis

Mohammed Bello Abubakar, 84, a Muslim preacher in Nigeria, told a BBC reporter in August that he does not advise other men to have as many wives as he does: 86 in all (and 170 children). He claims that his “power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them.” Most Muslim scholars state that a man should not have more than four wives, and only then if the man can treat them all equally, but Bello Abubakar said the Koran does not specify punishment for violation. He claims that women seek him out for his reputation as a healer. “I don’t go looking for them,” he said. “They come to me.” (Two weeks later, Reuters reported that local clerics were pressuring Bello Abubakar to divorce 82 of his wives.)

Creme de la Weird

In July, when police in Port St. Lucie, Fla., stopped Timothy Placko in his car on a wooded road, they discovered a blond wig, rope, binoculars, a small machete, knives, gloves, two bullet casings and a film canister that contained 18 teeth (despite Placko’s claim otherwise, police did not believe they were human teeth). Also on the seat was a stack of women’s sonograms that Placko said he had downloaded from the Internet. He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon.

Recurring Themes

In August, federal judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio ordered a last minute stay of execution for Jeffrey Wood based on serious concerns about his sanity. Texas state courts had summarily dismissed previous claims, but Garcia said substantial evidence supported at least holding a hearing on the issue. However, state law seemed to require the inmate to first prove his insanity in order to obtain a hearing on whether he is insane. That, Garcia said, is “an insane system.”

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: (89) People who call the emergency-only 911 number for stupid reasons, such as Reginald Peterson, who called police in Jacksonville, Fla., in August because Subway didn’t make his sandwich correctly. (90) People who seem to lose all respect for the danger of walking on railroad tracks when they listen to music on a headset or talk on cell phones (such as the two people hit by trains three weeks apart in April and May on the same rail line in the suburbs of Seattle).