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News Scan

Attorney Seeks Delay in Two Mississippi executions:  The Clarion Ledger (MS) reports attorney Glenn Swartzfager of the Mississippi Office of Post-Conviction Counsel is seeking to delay the executions of death row inmates Rodney Gray and Benny Joe Stevens, claiming they received inadequate counsel.  Gray was sentenced to death in 1996 for the 1994 rape and murder of 79-year-old Grace Blackwell.  Swartzfager stated that Gray's previous attorney did not request a thorough mental exam or show evidence of Gray's "substantial brain dysfunction and traumatic childhood."  Stevens was sentenced to death in 1999 for killing four people, including his former wife and 11-year-old son.  Gray's execution date is scheduled for April 27th and Stevens' is scheduled for May 4th.  The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear both men's appeals. 

Supreme Court Asked to Hear Appeal in Overturned Conviction:  Danielle Camilli of the Burlington County Times (NJ) reports the Attorney General is seeking review from the New Jersey Supreme Court of the overturned conviction of 23-year-old Boyce Singleton.  Singleton was sentenced to 50 years in prison in 2008 for the murder of his 38-year-old pregnant girlfriend Michelle Cazan.  Singleton had raised an insanity defense at trial, claiming God had commanded him to kill Cazan because she had become evil. The Appellate Division of Superior Court overturned the conviction last month, finding that the jury should have been instructed that "at times insanity may be established even when the defendant knows his or her act is legally wrong if acting under the compulsion of a command from God."

Federal Death Sentence Tossed:  The AP reports U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan reversed the death sentence for John Wayne Johnson, 58, who participated in a 2004 robbery that led to the death of Sheriff Lt. Sydney Zaffuto in New Orleans.  In 2009, a jury convicted him and recommended a sentence of death. Johnson's attorneys claimed a racial bias in the government's selection of when to seek the death penalty. Johnson's conviction remains intact.  An appeal to the Fifth Circuit regarding the reversed sentence was dismissed by federal prosecutors.  

MA Mom Convicted After Withholding Cancer Meds from Autistic Son: Denise Lavoie of the Associated Press reports that a Massachusetts jury convicted Kristen LaBrie of attempted murder, child endangerment, and assault and battery for failing to give her son at least five months of of cancer medications for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Jeremy Fraser, who was diagnosed in 2006 and was also autistic, died in 2009 at age 9. LaBrie said she stopped giving her son the medication because of  the side effects, and that she "didn't want to make him any sicker." Jeremy's oncologist testified that with proper care Jeremy's cancer had a 85 to 90 percent cure rate. LaBrie's sister said she expected the child endangerment and assault charges, but was surprised by the attempted murder conviction. Sentencing is scheduled for Friday morning.

Michigan Makes Changes to Sex Offender Registry: Kathy Barks Hoffman of the Associated Press reports that Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation today in which teenagers convicted of having consensual sex with minors will no longer have to register as sex offenders. It is still illegal to have sex with someone under 17 years old, but youth who had consensual partners between the ages of 13 and 16 will no longer be listed on the state sex offender registry, provided that they were no more than four years older than their partner. Youth offenders currently on the registry can now begin to petition to have their names removed. Also, the most dangerous sex offenders will now be included on the registry for life. Michigan risked losing part of its federal law enforcement funding unless changes were made. Offenders on the registry will now also have to provide more information like their Social Security numbers, email addresses, and passport details to make it easier for law enforcement to track offenders.

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