Court Won't Okay
by Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer
April 14, 1999
Decatur, Alabama (AP) -- Residents seeking to form a town whose only law would be the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus were thwarted by conventional legal channels.
Probate Judge Bobby Day ruled Tuesday that those who supported forming the new community of Brooksville had failed to lay the groundwork required by state law for an incorporation vote.
"It does not even begin to meet the minimum standards," said Day, who refused a last-minute request by backers to delay the hearing. He was not asked to address the question of whether a town could use the Bible for its laws.
Greg Morris, an attorney for backers of the proposed town, said they would try again to incorporate, as allowed under Day's ruling.
Much of Brooksville, an unincorporated community in northern Alabama, is already in the city of Priceville. It consists of little more than a few dozen houses and mobile homes situated around a two-lane blacktop.
Evangelist James R. Henderson and others wanted to form a new town that would use the Ten Commandments and Jesus' teachings as laws, with citizens providing their own protection through a community watch.
The only officeholder would be a volunteer mayor, and each of the town's 600 residents would serve on the City Council. The plan called for the King James Bible to become the town's charter and the Ten Commandments its ordinances.
While 160 people signed a petition in favor of forming the town, 380 signed petitions against it. The judge ruled the proposal invalid because the petition included too few signatures and lacked maps showing exactly where the community would be located.
None of the four men who were at the heart of the incorporation effort attended Tuesday's hearing and could not be located for comment at their homes or businesses. "The Bible rules are great, but you can't live by them alone," said Dot Brinkley, one of about 20 opponents who attended the hearing. "They're just telling us to get a gun and protect ourselves. We've got to have other things and sewer mains." The judge ruled that Henderson's group could try again to hold a vote on forming a new town, but there was no indication on whether such an attempt would be made.
Insurance Covers Wrongdoing
"Frugal Gourmet" Skates
by Cliff Walker
from wire reports
December 31, 1998
With no apology or admission of wrongdoing from Rev. Jeff Smith, a Seattle Methodist Minister and the host of "The Frugal Gourmet" accused by seven men of molesting them while they were teenagers, has agreed to an out-of-court settlement.
The price tag for the dirty deeds came to more than $5 million, according to court documents, but is not enforceable against any of Smith's property. Insurance companies holding personal liability policies for the Smiths and their parent corporations agreed to pay $4.75 million to halt the civil trial. Smith was not charged with any crime, as the statute of limitations has run out. Smith has denied all of the accusations.
Court documents also reveal that Smith agreed to pay an eighth man $1.5 million in 1991 in exchange for silence.
Smith has sold a reported 12 million copies of his cookbooks, and his television series, the most popular cooking show in history, once was viewed by an estimated 15 million people a week on 300 public TV stations.
Psychics Solve Burglary
by Cliff Walker
December 24, 1998
Police in Leesberg, Virginia, said that Michael Anthony Silver took a break during a 1996 burglary to use the victim's phone -- to consult a psychic hot line.
However, true to what some would expect from someone who calls psychic hotlines, he gave the psychic his real name and, when the calls showed up on the victim's bill, police had an easy time tracing the call and finding out who made it.
from the Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard
December 30, 1998
Turin, Italy -- Anarchists kidnapped the baby Jesus from a nativity scene set up by the northern city of Turin, demanding that authorities free a jailed comrade.
"Free Silvano now or Jesus is dead!" an anonymous note sent to the media said. A photo sent with the letter showed the round-eyed statue clutching the front pages of two Sunday newspapers in one wooden hand. That's a common practice in ransom notes, meant to show the victim was alive in captivity at the time of the photo.
Silvano Pelissero was arrested last spring after an alleged attempt to sabotage a high-speed train. The man who created the scene urged that the demand be ignored. "We're only talking about a piece of wood," artist Emanuele Luzzati said.
Crack Down On Beards
by Cliff Walker
from wire reports
December 30, 1998
Patrolling bands of religious police from Afghanistan's Taliban government have jailed dozens for trimming their beards since the start of the holy Muslim Ramadan.
"We have told the people many times to abide by the regulations, but some turn a deaf ear and imprisoning them is justified because we want them to improve spiritually," said the head of the religious police.
The fundamentalist movement boasts to be building the world's purist Islamic state.
Taliban have also banned girls from education and barred women from working outside the home.
Men who have trimmed their beards are jailed for 10 days in the notorious Puli Charkhi prison, once used by the Communists for persecuting and executing opposition Islamists.
Latest Jesus Sighting
First, Malcolm X Boxers;
Now, Jesus Panties (Sort Of)
by Chuck Shepherd
In Rio de Janeiro, designer Patrizia D'Angello and boutique owner David Azulay made plans to introduce men's swim trunks, modestly cut by Rio's beach standards, that feature a picture of Jesus on the seat.
School Board Chair
Stabs Voodoo Doll
by Cliff Walker
April 24, 1998
Duluth, Minnesota -- In a public demonstration of effective methods for getting your way, school board chairman Harry Welty stabbed a pin into a voodoo doll and asked it to ''exorcise the evil spirits'' from the board. After that, he resigned his position as chairman.
Welty resigned in front of 300 teachers lobbying for better salaries, who have been working without a contract since July. They voted to authorize a strike if negotiations fail.
A former teacher, Welty saw himself a peacemaker. But he ended up in a war of words with teachers' union president Frank Wanner. Teachers mailed 300 angry letters to Welty, including one he pinned to the doll.
Judy Z. Knight
Gets Exclusive Rights
to Contact 'Ramtha'
by Cliff Walker
June 12, 1997
Vienna, Austria -- Without questioning the existence of the supernatural, Austria's highest court has ruled that American Judy Z. Knight, of Yelm, Washington, is the only medium allowed to make contact with a 35,000-year-old ghost. The ruling followed a lengthy legal battle between Knight and Julie Ravel, a spiritual medium from Berlin.
Knight filed a lawsuit in 1992 after Ravel said she was making contact with Ramtha, said to have been a powerful leader on the sunken continent Atlantis. Knight won her lawsuit in lower courts and attorneys for Ravel appealed to the Austrian Supreme Court.
In a ruling issued last month but revealed only a week ago, the court said Knight offers certain "transcendental inspirations attributed to Ramtha." The judges thus issued a cease-and-desist order against Ravel.
However, Klinger explained that the ruling was only valid inside Austria.
Woman Sues Over Religion
by Cliff Walker
July 26, 1998
Deland, Florida -- A Florida woman, Rosamaria Machado-Wilson, is suing her former employer, claiming religion was forced on employees.
Machado-Wilson said that a walk to the coffee pot at BSG Laboratories often meant weaving past impromptu prayer ceremonies spoken in tongues. She and other workers were forced to be baptized and attend prayer meetings at the audio lab. Her lawsuit states that employees found to be ''nonbelievers'' were fired. Machado-Wilson, fired last year, she is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.
Heaven with Prayer
April 27, 1998
Manila (Reuters) -- House Speaker Jose de Venecia, almost written off by the polls as a loser, could end up winning the Philippine presidency next month, but may have to storm heaven with prayers to do it.
In the biggest and perhaps most bizarre rally in the run-up to the May 11 election, tens of thousands of born-again Christians Sunday night called on God and his angels to carry the 61-year-old veteran legislator to the presidential palace.
The show of support seemed the crowning touch to de Venecia's campaign to overtake Vice-President Joseph Estrada, a popular ex-film star who has taken a powerful lead in opinion surveys with two weeks ago before the vote.
The Manila rally capped a hectic weekend in which de Venecia barnstormed the country's poorest provinces, which are supposedly opposition strongholds, before returning to the capital to be "anointed" by one of the Philippines' biggest religious groups.
by Michelle Locke
Associated Press Writer
November 17, 1998
San Quentin, California -- A condemned prisoner whose cause has been championed by fellow Buddhists came within six hours of dying by injection before a co
urt issued a stay.
Jaturun Siripongs, 43, had been scheduled to die shortly after midnight for killing two people while robbing an Orange County market in 1981.
He had eaten what he thought was his last meal -- fresh fruit and dim sum -- Monday and said goodbye to his family.
But his execution was halted less than six hours in advance when U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney said Gov. Pete Wilson's office may have misled Siripongs' lawyers about what information the governor would consider in deciding whether to reduce Siripongs' sentence to life without parole.
State lawyers appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but were turned down by a three-judge panel. At about midnight, the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, declined to lift the stay, and Siripongs was sent back to his old cell.
This morning, the entire 21-member appeals court turned aside a request for a rehearing, effectively giving Siripongs a reprieve at least until early January.
Siripongs, a native of Thailand who briefly trained as a Buddhist monk, had gained the support of the Thai government, the husband of one of the victims and the former warden of San Quentin, Daniel B. Vasquez, who argued that showing mercy to an exceptionally well-behaved prisoner like Siripongs would encourage others to behave better.
Siripongs returned to his Buddhist faith in prison and has impressed guards with his demeanor. In the crowd of about 400 people who gathered outside the prison Monday, some Buddhist monks sat and prayed.
Siripongs' appeal centered on his lawyers' claims that Wilson told them to submit information on Siripongs' background and prison behavior for the clemency review, and leave out material on the crime or the court case.
Had they known Wilson would cite the crime itself in his clemency decision, the lawyers said, they could have presented evidence to support Siripongs' longstanding claim of innocence. Siripongs has admitted participating in the robbery, but says he was not the killer.
Wilson's spokesman Ron Low said the governor was disappointed in Chesney's ''fundamentally flawed'' decision and said it wasn't true that Wilson's office told the defense lawyers to leave out any material in their filings.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
in Member's Death
November 14, 1998
Clearwater, Florida (AP) -- Lisa McPherson's family says she was trying to leave the Church of Scientology when she was held for 17 days against her will at a church retreat, became severely dehydrated and died.
The church claims she was taken there to recover from a mental breakdown and became violent and refused food or fluids.
On Friday, authorities filed criminal charges against the Church of Scientology for the 1995 death, accusing it of abuse or neglect of a disabled adult, a second-degree felony, and unauthorized practice of medicine, a third-degree felony.
If the church is convicted of the charges, the most it would face is a fine, according to Ken Dandar, a lawyer for the McPherson family. But that is more than enough, he said.
"That is more severe to the Church of Scientology than sending some of their members to prison for several years," he told today's Tampa Tribune. "They exist for only one purpose, and that is to make money. Taking money away from them aggravates them more."
A spokesman for the Church of Scientology declined to answer any questions about the charges, but noted in a prepared statement that the church was not charged specifically with Ms. McPherson's death, and called it a "corporate negligence charge."
"There are no allegations that anyone intentionally harmed Lisa McPherson," Brian Anderson said. "This has been a difficult investigation and the state has operated under immense political pressure and they ultimately decided to bring a corporate negligence charge."
An autopsy showed Ms. McPherson, 36, died of an embolism or blood vessel blockage in her left lung caused by "bed rest and severe dehydration."
Pinellas County Medical Examiner Joan Wood said Ms. McPherson went without fluids for at least five to 10 days and possibly her entire stay at the retreat.
Church officials have disputed that, saying she was well cared for by church members but became violent and incoherent, had trouble sleeping and frequently resisted efforts to give her food, liquids and medications.
Church officials said she grew weak, lost weight and suddenly fell ill on Dec. 5, 1995. Church staffers said they drove her in a van to a hospital 45 minutes away in Pasco County so she could see an emergency room doctor who is a Scientologist. She was pronounced dead 20 minutes later.
Clearwater police and Florida Department of Law Enforcement officers last December recommended charges in the death.
Ms. McPherson's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit last year seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
"They're happy that criminal charges have been filed because, finally now, they believe criminal justice can take place and show this was a preventable death," Dandar said.
Church officials have said that the investigation into the death is part of a 15-year effort by Clearwater city officials to discredit Scientology.
Scientology was founded in the 1950s by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who said people gathered traumatic memories in past lives that hindered them in the present. Scientologists believe those memories can be cleared through church counseling.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Teen in 'Vampire' Killings
February 5, 1998
Tavares. Florida (Reuters) -- The leader of a coven of self-professed teen "vampires" abruptly changed his plea to guilty Thursday before the start of testimony in his trial for the crowbar slayings of a Florida couple.
Rod Ferrell, who swapped the white face paint and blood-red lipstick of his vampire days for sweater, tie and wired-rimmed glasses at the start of his murder trial this week, interrupted opening statements to enter his plea of guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, armed burglary and armed robbery.
Following the surprise development, the jury was told to return to court for the sentencing phase of the trial on Feb. 12 to decide whether Ferrell should die in the electric chair or face life in prison without parole.
Ferrell, 17, led a group of self-professed vampires in rural Kentucky -- teenagers who said they were inspired by Ann Rice novels and role-playing vampire games, drank each other's blood, engaged in ritual sex and mutilated animals during sacrifices.
Ferrell was charged with the 1996 slayings of Richard and Ruth Wendorf, the middle-aged parents of one of his followers, Heather Wendorf. Authorities said he surprised the couple in their rural Florida home and beat them to death with a crowbar.
Heather Wendorf, 17, was not charged but three teen accomplices will be tried later as accessories.
Prosecutor Brad King was just beginning his opening statement to jurors Thursday when Ferrell's attorney Bill Lackay asked the judge to excuse the jury so he could consult with his client.
Ferrell, whose voice was hushed and strained, gave brief answers in open court to questions about his change of plea. His mother sat in the front row of the courtroom and wept.
King, who called the plea change a surprise, said prosecutors had made no deal with the teenager.
"There's been absolutely no negotiations with the defense in this case," he said. "I intend to argue vigorously for the death penalty."
Lackay said Ferrell had had a change of heart and decided to take responsibility. "He's a 17-year-old kid. He's scared to death," Lackay said. He said Ferrell had offered to plead guilty three months ago in exchange for the state dropping the death penalty, but prosecutors had not responded to the offer.
Heather Wendorf described in depositions how Ferrell, a former boyfriend, had performed a blood rite in a graveyard the day of the killings, making her a member of his vampire clan. She told authorities that Ferrell had told her of his plan to kill her parents, and that she asked him not to.
Howard Scott Anderson, 18, charged as an accomplice, could also face the death penalty in a later trial. Dana Cooper, 20, and Charity Keesee, 17, also are charged as accomplices but do not face the death penalty.
Vampire Clan Member
February 5, 1998
Tavares, Florida (UPI) -- The alleged leader of a vampire clan has pleaded guilty to the bludgeoning deaths of Ruth and Richard Wendorf in their Sorrento, Fla., home in November, 1996.
Seventeen-year-old Rod Ferrell pleaded on the day that opening statements in his trial were to begin in Lake County circuit court in Tavares, Fla.
A defense attorney stood up during State Attorney Brad King's opening statement and said the 17-year-old had changed his mind.
Ferrell, his attorneys, prosecutors, and his mother, Sondra Gibson of Kentucky, met for about two hours privately before returning to the courtroom.
Public defender William Lackay said Ferrell wanted to plead guilty to all charges against him _ armed robbery, armed burglary, and two counts of first-degree murder.
Ferrell wept as the guilty plea was read.
The jury selected earlier this week will return to court Feb. 12 for a sentencing hearing. No deal was made between Ferrell and prosecutors and they may seek the death penalty.
King said no deal had been discussed. Evidence against Ferrell was extensive, including three taped confessions.
Lackay said Ferrell wants to live and was concerned and scared about a possible death sentence.
Ferrell and four other teens, including the victims' 15-year-old daughter Heather, were arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana a few days after the crimes. Heather was the only one not indicted and she may testify when the remaining three are tried.
Ferrell was said to be the leader of the vampire clan and the others allegedly followed his instructions.
Vampire Cult Leader
Gets Death Sentence in Florida
February 27, 1998
Tavares, Florida (CNN) -- Calling him "a disturbed young man," a judge sentenced the teen-age leader of a vampire cult to Florida's electric chair Friday for the beating deaths of a middle-age couple.
Rod Ferrell, 17, showed little emotion as state Circuit Judge Jerry Lockett stayed with the jury recommendation of death sentences for the crow-bar slayings of the central Florida couple in their home.
Ferrell pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Richard Wendorf and Naoma Ruth Queen of Eustice, about 30 miles northwest of Orlando, on November 25, 1996. On that date, Ferrell and three members of his blood-sucking cult came to Florida from rural Kentucky to help the couple's daughter run away.
Investigators said 15-year-old Heather Wendorf joined the cult of teen-agers, who used drugs, drank each others' blood and engaged in group sex and animal-mutilation rituals.
Three other teens were charged as accomplices, but not the victims' daughter, who told a grand jury she never knew Ferrell planned to kill her parents.
Judge urges another look at girl's role
In a surprising move, Lockett said during sentencing that prosecutors should reexamine Heather Wendorf's role.
"It is the strong suggestion of this court that the grand jury be reconvened to hear witnesses who testified at this trial but were not heard by the grand jury," Lockett said. "There is genuine evil in the world. There is dark side and light side competing in each of us."
The judge noted that some witnesses who testified at Ferrell's sentencing hearing did not speak to the grand jury.
Among those witnesses was Ferrell himself, who took the stand in a hearing Thursday.
"Heather is just as guilty as any of us could ever be," Ferrell said. "It's not right that she'll be free to make money and have no guilt for what she's done."
Ferrell's mother, Sondra Gibson, said her son didn't deserve the death penalty, and she endorsed the idea of pursuing charges against Wendorf.
"There's one person walking around who's just as guilty as he is," Gibson said outside the courtroom after the sentencing.
State Attorney Brad King said he doubted he would ask the grand jury to reconsider the case.
"You don't indict someone if you can't prove they're guilty," King said. "I'm more inclined to direct my energy to the other co-defendants."