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Child remains found at New Mexico compound, man due in court
Legal Focuses | 2018/08/08 10:48

For months, neighbors worried about a squalid compound built along a remote New Mexico plain, saying they brought their concerns to authorities long before sheriff's officials first found 11 hungry children on the lot, and then the remains of a small boy.

Two men and three women also had been living at the compound, and were arrested following a raid Friday that came as officials searched for a missing Georgia boy with severe medical issues.

Medical examiners still must confirm whether the body found at the property in a second search on Monday is that of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, who was 3 in December when police say his father took him from his mother in Jonesboro, Georgia.

The boy's father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, was among those arrested in the compound raid that has since resulted in the series of startling revelations on the outskirts of Amalia, a tiny town near the Colorado state line marked by scattered homes and sagebrush. Authorities said they found the father armed with multiple firearms, including an assault rifle.

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj was scheduled to appear in court Wednesday on a warrant from Georgia that seeks his extradition to face a charge of abducting his son from that state last December. He had expressed wanting to perform an exorcism on his son, the warrant said.

The group arrived in Amalia in December, with enough money to buy groceries and construction supplies, according to Tyler Anderson, a 41-year-old auto mechanic who lives nearby.

He said Tuesday he helped the newcomers install solar panels after they arrived but eventually stopped visiting.


Court: Ban seafood caught with nets that harm tiny porpoises
Legal Focuses | 2018/07/28 23:37

A judge has ordered the U.S. government to ban imports of seafood caught by Mexican fisheries that use a net blamed for killing off the vaquita, the world's smallest and most-endangered porpoise.

Judge Gary Katzmann, of The U.S. Court of International Trade, on Thursday granted a motion after three environmental groups filed a lawsuit seeking a ban on seafood caught with gillnets in part of the Gulf of California, where the vaquita live.

Some scientists estimate that there could be as few as 15 of the vaquita — Spanish for "little cow" — left. The court noted that experts believe they could be extinct by 2021 without intervention.

Their numbers have been severely reduced illegal fishing and by the gillnets, which are used to catch a variety of shrimp and fish.

The nets are hung in the water to catch seafood. The Mexican government has banned their use in some areas and for some species, but allows it for other species.

There also is illegal fishing in the vaquitas habitat for the Mexican totoaba fish, which goes for high prices because its swim bladder is considered a delicacy in China and reputed to boost fertility.

The Justice Department, which had opposed the ban, did not immediately answer an email seeking comment.

The groups that filed the suit are the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute.


Top court: Social media posts violate no-contact order
Legal Focuses | 2018/07/26 23:35

Social media posts can represent a violation of a protection order, the state's highest court ruled on Tuesday, affirming the conviction of a man who made threats on Facebook.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected Richard Heffron III's arguments that his Facebook comments were a protected form of speech, that the posts didn't constitute direct or indirect contact, and that he wasn't told that his posts represented a violation.

In its ruling, the court concluded Heffron's social media comments violated the court-approved no-contact order and were outside the realm of constitutional protections.

"The court correctly determined that Heffron's communications with the protected person fell short of those that deserve constitutional protection," Justice Jeffrey Hjelm wrote, noting that the conviction "did not place his First Amendment rights at risk."

Heffron and the woman with whom he'd had a relationship were no longer Facebook friends but still had friends in common. In the posts, Heffron referred to the woman by name and threatened to harm her. A friend brought the comments to the woman's attention.

James Mason, Heffron's attorney, said courts in other states have reached different conclusions but that the facts didn't perfectly align with the Maine case.

"Obviously I'm disappointed," Mason said. "I think that there was no evidence that he ever intended to have these comments reach her."

After being convicted, Heffron was ordered to serve 21 days in jail, which was the length of time he was jailed before posting bail. He also was sentenced to a year of probation.

Mason said the ruling served as a cautionary tale. "It lets people know that they do need to be careful about what they post on the internet," he said. "It makes it clear that you have limited First Amendment protections on the internet, especially on Facebook."


Judge, calm in court, takes hard line on splitting families
Legal Focuses | 2018/07/23 06:44

U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw appeared conflicted in early May on whether to stop families from being separated at the border. He challenged the Trump administration to explain how families were getting a fair hearing guaranteed by the Constitution, but also expressed reluctance to get too deeply involved with immigration enforcement.

"There are so many (enforcement) decisions that have to be made, and each one is individual," he said in his calm, almost monotone voice. "How can the court issue such a blanket, overarching order telling the attorney general, either release or detain (families) together?"

Sabraw showed how more than seven weeks later in a blistering opinion faulting the administration and its "zero tolerance" policy for a "crisis" of its own making. He went well beyond the American Civil Liberties Union's initial request to halt family separation — which President Donald Trump effectively did on his own amid a backlash — by imposing a deadline of this Thursday to reunify more than 2,500 children with their families.

Unyielding insistence on meeting his deadline, displayed in a string of hearings he ordered for updates, has made the San Diego jurist a central figure in a drama that has captivated international audiences with emotional accounts of toddlers and teens being torn from their parents.

Circumstances changed dramatically after the ACLU sued the government in March on behalf of a Congolese woman and a Brazilian woman who were split from their children. Three days after the May hearing, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance policy on illegal entry was in full effect, leading to the separation of more than 2,300 children in five weeks.



Court says convicted serial rapist should be released
Legal Focuses | 2018/07/17 17:04

A convicted serial rapist should be allowed to be released into the community under supervision, the Minnesota state Court of Appeals ruled Monday, saying the state did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Thomas Duvall should remain in treatment.

Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said Monday that she will appeal the provisional discharge of Duvall, in a case that once set off a political firestorm as lawmakers were considering changes to the state's treatment program for sex offenders.

"I have grave concerns about this decision," Piper said in a statement. "Three experts have previously testified that Thomas Duvall is not ready for life in the community and that he presents far too great a risk to public safety. I share that view and will exhaust every possible avenue of appeal."

Duvall, 62, has spent the last 30 years locked up for the violent rapes of teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1987, he bound a Brooklyn Park girl with an electrical cord and raped her repeatedly over several hours while hitting her with a hammer. He was civilly committed as a psychopathic personality in 1991 and sent to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

Duvall has been in treatment since 2001 and was diagnosed as a sexual sadist. He has been in the final stages of the program since 2010, living outside the security perimeter at the facility in St. Peter, going on regular supervised community outings, volunteering at a thrift store, attending community support groups and preparing for transition into the community.



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