Teen changes plea to guilty in deaths of mother, stepfather
Court News | 2016/03/12 23:58
A northern Wisconsin woman changed her plea to guilty Friday in the slaying of her mother and stepfather in a deal that has prosecutors recommending a 40-year prison sentence.

Ashlee Martinson, who was 17 at the time of the March 2015 killings, faces two counts of second-degree homicide, USA Today Network-Wisconsin reported. She had earlier pleaded innocent by reason of insanity in the killings at the family's home near Three Lakes.

According to court records filed Friday, Martinson told police she shot her stepfather, 37-year-old Thomas Ayers, in the neck and head. She then went to her mother, 40-year-old Jennifer Ayers, for solace, but her mother first tried to aid her husband, then armed herself with a knife to confront Martinson.

Martinson wrestled the knife from her mother and stabbed her more than 30 times. She then went downstairs and turned the family TV to show cartoons to her three sisters, ages 2 to 9. After showering, Martinson confined the younger girls in a room before fleeing to Indiana with her boyfriend, documents show.

Court documents say the Ayerses were killed the same day they warned Martinson's 22-year-old boyfriend to stay away from her because she was a minor.

Martinson told authorities she had been mentally and verbally abused by her stepfather and had seen him physically abuse her mother and siblings, according to court records.

The assessment also said Martinson had suffered from depression on and off since age 8, gaining in intensity at age 15. Martinson's sentencing is set for June 17.



Federal appeals court to rehear Texas voter ID case
Court News | 2016/03/10 23:59
A federal appeals court will hold a new hearing on whether a Texas voter ID law has discriminatory effects on minorities — a potential blow to the Obama administration's efforts to fight new ballot-box restrictions passed by conservative legislatures around the country.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled in August that the 2011 Texas law requiring 14.6 million registered voters to show picture identification at the polls violates parts of the federal Voting Rights Act. But an order issued late Wednesday says a majority of the full court, which currently has 15 members, voted to hear the case again.  

The order was issued without additional opinion, and a new hearing date hasn't been set.

Texas was allowed to enforce the voter ID law during elections in 2014 and during last week's primary. Supporters say it prevents fraud, but opponents argue its true intent is to make voting tougher for older, poor and minority voters who tend to support Democrats and are less likely to have the mandated forms of identification.

In a statement, state Attorney General Ken Paxton called the order "a strong step forward in our efforts to defend the state's Voter ID laws."

"We look forward to presenting our case before the full Fifth Circuit," said Paxton, a Republican who has been indicted on felony securities fraud charges stemming from actions he took before becoming attorney general in January 2015.


German court ends fight over estate of Iran shah's 2nd wife
Court News | 2016/02/23 17:18
A German court has ruled that the estate of the former shah of Iran's second wife, Soraya Esfandiari-Bakhtiari, belongs to her late brother's ex-chauffeur.

The ruling announced Tuesday by the Cologne state court comes nearly 15 years after Soraya's death. She named as heir her brother, Bijan Esfandiari, who lived in Cologne and died days after her. The court ruled that a short will the brother wrote in a notebook, naming his former chauffeur and private secretary as his heir, is valid.

The man had spent several years disputing part of the inheritance with relatives of Soraya. The court didn't specify its value.

Soraya married Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1951. Seven years later, the shah repudiated her in an Islamic divorce after they failed to have children.


Kenya: Supreme court judge to be investigated over bribery
Court News | 2016/02/07 09:04
The head of Kenya's Judiciary Friday said that an internal probe has found that a Supreme Court judge should be investigated further over allegations that he received a $2 million bribe to influence an election petition.

The Judicial Service Commission committee set up to investigate Justice Phillip Tunoi recommended a further probe by a tribunal, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said.

Tunoi is accused by journalist Geoffrey Kiplagat of receiving a bribe to make a judgment favoring Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero, whose March 2013 election was being challenged by his closest rival.

Tunoi, through his lawyer Fred Ngatia, said he was ready to face the tribunal and reiterated his innocence.

Kiplagat claims he participated in the deal to bribe the judge.

The allegations test the credibility of Kenya's Supreme Court, which was formed in 2010 when the country adopted a new constitution.

Before reforms ushered in by the new constitution, the credibility of the Kenyan judiciary had been in question for decades. The constitution of August 2010 requires that all judges be vetted. Ten judges and 31 magistrates lost their jobs after they were found to be unfit to hold office.



Texas renews bid for court-imposed refugee restrictions
Court News | 2016/01/30 00:41
Texas is doubling down on its push for court-imposed restrictions on the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state.

In a court filing in Dallas on Tuesday before U.S. District Judge David Godbey, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton cited a recent federal acknowledgement that U.S. officials failed to give the state advance notice that a group of refugees was being resettled there. Paxton contends the refugees haven't been sufficiently vetted for potential terrorists.

Godbey already denied the state's request for emergency court-imposed resettlement restrictions. However, he directed federal officials to give the state seven days' notice of any resettlement.

Federal officials have apologized for failure to meet the judge's conditions, calling the omission an oversight.


Appeals court upholds Virginia health care facility law
Court News | 2016/01/23 00:38
A Virginia law that requires government approval for new or expanded health care facilities is constitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond unanimously rejected a claim that Virginia's "certificate of public need" program impermissibly interferes with interstate commerce.

While we cannot say whether Virginia's program is ultimately wise, it most certainly is constitutional," Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote.

Virginia requires medical providers to prove to the State Board of Health that proposed new facilities, expansions or major equipment purchases are necessary in a geographic area. According to the appeals court, 36 states have similar programs.

Colon Health Centers of America and Progressive Radiology challenged Virginia's law. U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled against the plaintiffs, and the appeals court upheld Hilton's decision.

“The program left in place by today's ruling amounts to nothing more than a certificate of monopoly for favored established businesses, which comes at enormous cost to ordinary Virginians,” said Robert McNamara, a lawyer at the Institute for Justice who represented the plaintiffs.

McNamara said no decision has been made on whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said such a petition would be due April 20, and the General Assembly might take action on the issue before then.



Ohio's top court declines to change rules on plea deals
Court News | 2016/01/18 07:29
Ohio's top court decided Thursday to continue allowing defendants to plead to lesser crimes that don't bear much resemblance to the facts of the original charge.

Some trial court judges argued that such pleas undermine public confidence in the courts, saying the seriousness of a crime sometimes isn't reflected in the end result.

"Baseless pleas are an affront to the very principles our justice system was designed to promote: that is, truth and justice," Michael Donnelly, a judge in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County court, said in a letter to a Supreme Court committee reviewing the use of such pleas.

Plea bargains that stray from the facts in sex crimes can also allow defendants to avoid having to register as sex offenders, Donnelly said.

The Ohio Supreme Court without comment declined by a 4-2 vote to move the proposal forward.

Donnelly said Thursday he was disappointed but would continue to push the issue.

Connecticut, Florida and New Jersey, among other states, require a plea to have some basis in the facts of the crime.

More than 20 states limit prosecutors' ability to resolve drunken driving cases with plea bargains that dismiss or eliminate an impaired-driving charge, according to the National Center for State Courts. New Mexico allows plea bargains as long as one of the convictions includes at least one offense related to driving under the influence.


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