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PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius was testifying for a second day at his murder trial Tuesday, answering questions from his defense lawyer.
 
Pistorius is expected to speak about the night he shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp and will also be cross-examined by the prosecution.
 
The double-amputee Olympic runner was the second witness called by the defense Monday, when he made a tearful apology to Steenkamp's family. He said he was now on medication and suffered from panic attacks, and had a long-held fear of crime, which he says contributed to him firing through a toilet door on Valentine's Day last year thinking his girlfriend was a nighttime intruder.
 
Prosecutors say that Pistorius is lying and killed Steenkamp intentionally after an argument and charged the world-famous athlete with premeditated murder.
Published in National News
PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has been delayed until April 7 because one of the legal experts who will assist the judge in reaching a verdict is sick, abruptly ending expectations Friday that the double-amputee athlete was about to testify on his fatal shooting of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.
 
Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the delay in court on the day Pistorius' defense lawyers were due to begin presenting their case after four weeks of prosecution-led testimony and a two-day adjournment.
 
"One of my assessors is not well, so this court is not properly constituted," Masipa said. "I suggest that we postpone this matter until the seventh of April."
 
Masipa has two assessors who sit on either side of her in the Pretoria courtroom. South Africa does not have a jury system, and Masipa will deliver a verdict with help from the two assessors, who have limited roles in the day-to-day court proceedings but are there to help Masipa reach a decision.
 
Pistorius faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder for killing Steenkamp, and also could be sent to prison for years if convicted of murder without premeditation or negligent killing.
 
Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, mistaking her for an intruder in his home and opening fire through a closed toilet door in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013. Prosecutors say he killed her after a Valentine's Day argument. The world-famous athlete pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and also not guilty to three other firearm-related counts.
 
After prosecutors wrapped up their case against the Olympian this week, one of the defense lawyers said Pistorius would likely testify.
 
Legal experts say Pistorius, 27, is expected to testify because he has admitted killing Steenkamp, 29, and must explain to the court why so it can take his version into account. It's common in South Africa for the defendant to be the first person the defense calls, the experts said, unless there are exceptional reasons why another witness should testify ahead of him.
 
When Pistorius testifies he would also open himself up to cross-examination and likely uncomfortable questions from chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
Published in National News
   PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) - Oscar Pistorius has entered a courtroom in South Africa for the start of his murder trial, walking past the mother of the woman he shot and killed a year ago.
   The double-amputee Olympic athlete arrived in the courtroom at the high court in Pretoria wearing a dark gray suit and black tie. He sat and drank from a bottle of water.
   Pistorius is charged with murder with premeditation in the shooting death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day last year.
   Pistorius says he shot Steenkamp by accident, thinking she was an intruder inside his bathroom.
   Steenkamp's mother, June, earlier entered the court dressed in black.
   
Published in National News
SEATTLE (AP) — Amanda Knox is facing what seemed like a distant worry when she was giving national television interviews and promoting her autobiography last year: the possibility of being returned to Italy to serve decades in prison for the death of her roommate, Meredith Kercher.
 
Any decision on whether to extradite the 26-year-old from the U.S. is likely months away, at least. Experts have said it's unlikely that Italy's justice ministry would request Knox's extradition before the verdict is finalized by the country's high court.
 
If the conviction is upheld, a lengthy extradition process would likely ensue, with the U.S. State Department ultimately deciding whether to turn Knox back over to Italian authorities to finish serving her sentence.
 
Here's how that might play out.
 
___
 
EXTRADITION
 
Extradition is the process of one country surrendering to another country a person who has been accused or convicted of a crime. Under the terms of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Italy, the offense must be a crime in each country and punishable by more than one year in prison.
 
Any request to extradite Knox would go to the U.S. State Department, which would evaluate whether Italy has a sufficient case for seeking Knox's return. If so, the State Department would transfer the case to the Justice Department, which would represent the interests of the Italian government in seeking her arrest and transfer in U.S. District Court.
 
American courts have limited ability to review extradition requests from other countries, but rather ensure the extradition request meets basic legal requirements, said Mary Fan, a former U.S. federal prosecutor who teaches law at the University of Washington in Seattle.
 
"The U.S. courts don't sit in judgment of another nation's legal system," Fan said.
 
___
 
THE POLITICAL AND THE LEGAL
 
Fan suggested that any decision by the State Department on whether to return Knox to Italy is "a matter of both law and politics." From an American standpoint, the case at first seems to raise questions about double jeopardy — being tried twice for the same offense, as barred by the U.S. Constitution. Knox was first convicted, then acquitted, then, on Thursday, the initial conviction was reinstated.
 
Some observers have dismissed the double-jeopardy issue because Knox's acquittal was not finalized by Italy's highest court.
 
That said, creative defense lawyers might make an effort to fight extradition over concerns about the legal process or the validity of the conviction, Fan said, and those arguments could carry political weight too. "Many Americans are quite astonished by the ups and downs in this case, and it's the U.S. that will ultimately be making the call about whether to extradite," Fan said.
 
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a statement Thursday she was "very concerned and disappointed by this verdict."
 
"I will continue to closely monitor this case as it moves forward through the Italian legal system," Cantwell said.
 
Christopher Jenks, a former Army attorney who served as a State Department legal adviser and now teaches at Southern Methodist University's law school, said Italy has a low bar to clear in compiling a legally sufficient extradition request.
 
"There would be a political or policy decision to be made by the State Department, but it's got to be founded in law or in reason," he said.
 
Jenks noted that the extradition treaty works both ways.
 
"If the U.S. ever wants to have any chance of extraditing an Italian murder suspect who has allegedly killed people in the U.S.," he said, "you have to give to get."
 
___
 
HAS ITALY HAD ENOUGH?
 
There have been other high-profile tussles over whether Americans suspected of crimes in Italy would face justice there.
 
In 1998, a low- and fast-flying U.S. Marine jet sliced a cable supporting a gondola at a ski resort in the Italian Alps, killing 20 people. Many Italians wanted the pilot and crew tried in Italy, though NATO rules gave jurisdiction to the U.S. military. The pilot faced a court martial in the U.S. and was acquitted of negligent homicide charges.
 
Italian courts convicted — in absentia — 26 CIA and U.S. government employees in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric suspected of recruiting terrorists in Milan. One, a U.S. Air Force colonel, was pardoned last year on the grounds that it was unprecedented to try an officer of a NATO country for acts committed in Italy. Another, the former CIA base chief in Milan, Robert Seldon Lady, has also requested a pardon. Lady was briefly held last summer in Panama based on an international arrest warrant issued by Italy, which has not yet formally requested his extradition.
 
"I suspect that the Italians feel there have been enough incidents of them not being able to prosecute Americans for crimes committed in Italy," Jenks wrote in an email.
Published in National News

   A death penalty case in St. Charles County is the first in more than a decade.  

   Sixty-three year old Terry Culberson is accused of shooting his ex-girlfriend, 55 year old Dorothy Hall in the face five times.  Her body was found inside Culberson's O'Fallon, Missouri mobile home on February 5, 2013.  

   St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar says the brutality of the murder was a factor in deciding to ask for the death penalty. "St. Charles County has not requested a death penalty since 2002, so it's a very unique situation," he said.  

   Lohmar says Culberson's past conviction for assault with the intent to kill was also a factor.  A trial date has not yet been set.

 
Published in Local News

   PHOENIX (AP) - Jodi Arias returns to court today as her attorneys ask the judge to vacate the jury's decision that the 2008 killing of her boyfriend was "especially cruel," a finding that allowed the panel to consider the death penalty.

   Arias was convicted of first-degree murder May 8 in the stabbing and shooting death of Travis Alexander in his suburban Phoenix home. About two weeks later, the same jury failed to reach a unanimous decision on whether to sentence Arias to life in prison or death. While her murder conviction stands, the judge declared a mistrial of the penalty phase.

   Prosecutors say they are preparing to try again for the death penalty with a new jury, but would consider a resolution short of a new trial.

   Arias admitted she killed Alexander, but claimed it was self-defense.

 
Published in National News

   SANFORD, Fla. (AP) - The lead police detective who investigated Trayvon Martin's fatal shooting last year is returning to the witness stand.

   Sanford Police detective Chris Serino testifies for a second day Tuesday about his investigation into the fatal shooting of the Miami teenager by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

   The 29 year old Zimmerman is pleading not guilty to second-degree murder. He claims he acted in self-defense.

   Jurors on Monday heard a series of recorded police interviews of detectives questioning Zimmerman about his confrontation with Martin in a gated community in central Florida.

 
Published in National News

   More testimony is expected today in the trial of a St. Louis man charged with killing three people at a Minnesota home last year.  

   Thirty-five year old Eddie Mosley is charged in the deaths of DeLois Brown and her parents, Clover and James Bolden, Senior.  The Bolden's had just moved from East St. Louis to be closer to their daughter.  

   Mosley's half-sister testified Friday that he'd seemed "desperate" to silence a teenager who had accused him of molesting her.  She testified that he'd called the girl's mother several times in the days just before the murders.

   Prosecutors say Mosley had driven from St. Louis to Brown's Brooklyn Park, Minnesota home to silence the girl, but she wasn't there.  

   Mosley's attorney says he had no motive for the killings.

Published in Local News

PLATTE CITY, Mo. (AP) - A judge has refused to order Gov. Jay Nixon to testify in the third murder trial of a northwest Missouri man.

Platte County Circuit Judge Owens Lee Hull Jr. denied the motion by lawyers for Mark Woodworth following a brief hearing Thursday.

Mark Woodworth is facing a retrial for the 1990 killing of Cathy Robertson, a neighbor in Chillicothe.

Woodworth sought to depose Nixon about his knowledge of a series of letters between state and local prosecutors, a Livingston County judge and Robertson's husband.

Nixon was the state's attorney general when Woodworth was indicted by a Livingston County grand jury two decades ago. The case was handled by a special state prosecutor, Kenny Hulshof, after the Livingston County prosecutor refused to press charges.

Published in Local News
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 01:27

EXPERTS: Pistorius violated basic firearms rules

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Even if Oscar Pistorius is acquitted of murder, firearms and legal experts in South Africa believe that, by his own account, the star athlete violated basic gun-handling regulations and exposed himself to a homicide charge by shooting into a closed door without knowing who was behind it.

Particularly jarring for firearms instructors and legal experts is that Pistorius testified that he shot at a closed toilet door, fearing but not knowing for certain that a nighttime intruder was on the other side. Instead of an intruder, Pistorius' girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was in the toilet cubicle. Struck by three of four shots that Pistorius fired from a 9 mm pistol, she died within minutes. Prosecutors charged Pistorius with premeditated murder, saying the shooting followed an argument between the two. Pistorius said it was an accident.

South Africa has stringent laws regulating the use of lethal force for self-protection. In order to get a permit to own a firearm, applicants must not only know those rules but must demonstrate proficiency with the weapon and knowledge of its safe handling, making it far tougher to legally own a gun in South Africa than many other countries where a mere background check suffices.

Pistorius took such a competency test for his 9 mm pistol and passed it, according to the South African Police Service's National Firearms Center. Pistorius' license for the 9 mm pistol was issued in September 2010. The Olympic athlete and Paralympic medalist should have known that firing blindly, instead of at a clearly identified target, violates basic gun-handling rules, firearms and legal experts said.

"You can't shoot through a closed door," said Andre Pretorius, president of the Professional Firearm Trainers Council, a regulatory body for South African firearms instructors. "People who own guns and have been through the training, they know that shooting through a door is not going to go through South African law as an accident."

"There is no situation in South Africa that allows a person to shoot at a threat that is not identified," Pretorius added. "Firing multiple shots, it makes it that much worse. ...It could have been a minor — a 15-year-old kid, a 12-year-old kid — breaking in to get food."

The Pistorius family, through Arnold Pistorius, uncle of the runner, has said it is confident that the evidence will prove that Steenkamp's death in the predawn hours of Feb. 14 was "a terrible and tragic accident."

In an affidavit to the magistrate who last Friday freed him on bail, Pistorius said he believed an intruder or intruders had gotten into his US$560,000 (€430,000) two-story house, in a guarded and gated community with walls topped by electrified fencing east of the capital, Pretoria, and were inside the toilet cubicle in his bathroom. Believing he and Steenkamp "would be in grave danger" if they came out, "I fired shots at the toilet door" with the pistol that he slept with under his bed, he testified.

Criminal law experts said that even if the prosecution fails to prove premeditated murder, firing several shots through a closed door could bring a conviction for the lesser but still serious charge of culpable homicide, a South African equivalent of manslaughter covering unintentional deaths through negligence.

Johannesburg attorney Martin Hood, who specializes in firearm law, said South African legislation allows gun owners to use lethal force only if they believe they are facing an immediate, serious and direct attack or threat of attack that could either be deadly or cause grievous injury.

According to Pistorius' own sworn statement read in court, he "did not meet those criteria," said Hood, who is also the spokesman for the South African Gun Owners' Association.

"If he fired through a closed door, there was no threat to him. It's as simple as that," he added. "He can't prove an attack on his life ... In my opinion, at the very least, he is guilty of culpable homicide."

The Associated Press emailed a request for comment to Vuma, a South African reputation management firm hired by the Pistorius family to handle media questions about the shooting.

The firm replied: "Due to the legal sensitivities around the matter, we cannot at this stage answer any of your questions as it might have legal implications for a case that still has to be tried in a court of law." Vuma said on Monday it referred the AP's questions to Pistorius' legal team, which by Tuesday had not replied.

Culpable homicide covers unintentional deaths ranging from accidents with no negligence, like a motorist whose brakes fail, killing another road user, "to where it verges on murder or where it almost becomes intentional," said Hood. Sentences — ranging from fines to prison — are left to courts to determine and are not set by fixed guidelines.

The tough standards for legally acquiring a gun were instituted in part because of a wave of weapons purchases after the end of racist white rule in 1994, said Rick De Caris, a former legal director in the South African police. Under South Africa's white-minority apartheid regime, gun owners often learned how to handle firearms during military service. Many of the new gun owners had little or no firearms training, which brought tragic results, De Caris said.

"People were literally shooting themselves when cleaning a firearm," said De Caris, who helped draft the Firearms Control Act of 2000.

Prospective gun owners must now take written exams that include questions on the law, have to show they can safely handle and shoot a gun and are required to hit a target the size of a glossy magazine in 10 of 10 shots from seven meters (23 feet), said Pretorius of the Professional Firearm Trainers Council.

In his affidavit, Pistorius said he wasn't wearing his prosthetic limbs "and felt extremely vulnerable" after hearing noise from the toilet.

"I grabbed my 9 mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom, I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch-dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed," he testified.

Legal experts said they are puzzled why Pistorius apparently didn't first fire a warning shot to show the supposed intruder he was armed. Also unanswered is why, after he heard noise in his bathroom that includes the toilet cubicle, Pistorius still went toward the bathroom — toward the perceived danger — rather than retreat back into his bedroom.

"He should have tried to get out of the situation," said Hood, the attorney.
Published in National News
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