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News Roundup

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Last month the News Roundup noted that a federal judge had vacated Charles Ray Finch’s 1976 state conviction for murder.  That ruling followed the Fourth Circuit’s decision earlier this year that Finch was entitled to a hearing on the merits of an untimely habeas petition because he met the actual innocence standard required to overcome his untimeliness.  The Wilson Times reports that this week the Wilson County District Attorney’s Office formally dismissed the murder charge against Finch and will not retry him.  The article says that Finch now will petition Governor Cooper for a pardon, which, if granted, would entitle him to compensation for the 40 years he spent in prison.  Keep reading for more news.

Dixon.  WLOS reports that a jury has convicted Nathaniel Dixon of first-degree murder in his trial arising from the death of his pregnant girlfriend, Candace Pickens.  The News Roundup noted the trial earlier this month because a witness who had testified later was shot and killed.  The WLOS story about the verdict indicates that security is an ongoing concern in the proceeding, with some jurors reportedly receiving threats and suspicious activity occurring around the courthouse.

Memory.  Readers of this blog likely are aware that a misidentification based on a false memory was a contributing factor to the wrongful conviction of Ronald Cotton for rape and murder in North Carolina in the mid 1980’s.  The victim in that case, Jennifer Thompson, was certain that Cotton was her assailant, though he later was exonerated by DNA evidence.  Our former SOG colleague Alyson Grine wrote about the Cotton misidentification last year in the North Carolina State Bar Journal.  This week the New York Times published a short documentary about a similar misidentification by Penny Beerntsen, also the victim of a rape in the 80’s.  The documentary features moving commentary by Beerntsen about how she felt when she found out that she had misidentified the perpetrator.

Illinois Legalizes Marijuana.  As the Associated Press reports, this week Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults.  Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill that will allow people age 21 and older to purchase marijuana from approved dispensaries, which will start selling in January of next year.  The law gives a cannabis-vendor preference to minority-owned businesses and commits 25% of tax revenue from marijuana sales to development of impoverished communities.  People with criminal records for purchasing or possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less are eligible to have those records expunged.

E. Jean Carroll. Late last week excerpts from a forthcoming book by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll were published on New York magazine’s website. In those excerpts, Carroll alleges that President Donald Trump sexually assaulted her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room in the mid 1990’s.  President Trump has denied the allegation.  The nature of the news coverage of the allegation has itself become a story, with critics saying that there wasn’t enough of it.  The executive editor of the New York Times spoke about that criticism here.

Manafort.  Paul Manafort was back in criminal court this week, pleading not guilty to state mortgage fraud charges in New York.  This CBS News article says that Manafort’s attorneys are expected to argue that principles of double jeopardy prohibit the prosecution, though the US Supreme Court just upheld the dual-sovereignty doctrine earlier this month.

The Funnest Day a Dad Ever Had.  For many, Father’s Day is an opportunity to proudly recognize a parent’s influence on his family, often by bestowing him another tie, additional wrenches, or a useless gadget.  This year, the Topeka Police Department departed from this time-tested practice and seized a perceived opportunity to mete out some justice.  The Department made a Twitter post, since deleted, asking women whether their “child’s father” had outstanding warrants or was “carrying around any drugs.”  If either circumstance obtained, the department suggested that a quick call to police would “help your family make a memory that will last a lifetime.”  Calling the public’s intense criticism of the post “a learning experience,” the department returned to Twitter to apologize and was not allowed any dessert for a week.

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