Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Today's News-Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The process of jury selection begins today for the trial of two Shenandoah teenagers accused in the beating death of a Mexican illegal last summer. President Judge William Baldwin will preside over the process of picking twelve jurors and four alternates to hear the case of criminal homicide and related counts against Brandon Piekarsky, and assault and associated charges against Derrick Donchak. Lawyers for both sides will also have opportunity to accept or reject prospective jurors. Three days have been allocated for jury selection, with the trial scheduled to begin on Monday, April 27th. Charges against a third teen, Colin Walsh, were apparently dropped in return for a federal plea deal in connection with the case. Check out our news website during the day for updates on the jury selection process.

A rally in support of the rights of gun owners was held in the state Capitol Tuesday, and one area legislator voiced his support to keep and bear arms. Hundreds of people joined together to protect their rights, including Representative Tim Seip of the 125th District, who said that in spite of tragic events like the recent deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers, we should enforce the laws we already have, not add new ones:


This is the fourth year of the gun owners rally.

Efforts for Schuylkill County to build a pre-release facility to alleviate prison overcrowding is inching forward following the passage of a bill in the state House this week. Neal Goodman, 123rd District Representative sponsored House Bill 792 to authorize the Department of General Services to sell a 5 acres tract of land near SCI Frackville in Ryan Township to Schuylkill County for $48-thousand-dollars. The state Senate and Governor Rendell have to approve it. Cash from $1.5 million dollars in prisoner fines and fees and a low interest loan from the US Department of Agriculture would fund the project.

Utility workers and emergency crews responded to a gas leak along Route 61 near Schuylkill Haven, snarling traffic. After 2:30, a gas service line was struck by an excavator at the new diner being constructed at Connors Crossing. Traffic was stopped at Route 61 between the Cressona Mall and Dock Street for about half an hour. The line was capped and traffic flow resumed by the time rush hour began.

Pa. prosecutor impressed with work on 1979 killing

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) - An eastern Pennsylvania prosecutor says he hopes witnesses who recently surfaced and modern science can solve a 30-year-old murder of a 17-year-old high school senior. Holly Branagan was stabbed 18 times in her Bethlehem home on March 28, 1979. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli met with city police Tuesday and said he is impressed with how much progress they've made since reopening the case a few months ago. Morganelli notes that DNA tests weren't used in 1979 and hopes that new tests on physical evidence will help. He said he has no immediate plans to have a grand jury investigate, but didn't rule that out in the future.

Some cities make gains in curbing dropouts

WASHINGTON (AP) - A national study shows the high school dropout problem is getting better in some big cities where it's most severe. Philadelphia, Tucson, Ariz., and Kansas City, Mo., made huge gains over the past decade, boosting graduation rates by 20 percent or more. That's according to the study released Wednesday by America's Promise Alliance. But the situation remains dismal: More than one in four kids drops out of high school in the United States. And while most big cities are making gains, 19 have lost ground. For example, Las Vegas saw its graduation rates plummet 23 percentage points to 44.5 percent.

Pedestrian killed by train in western Pa.

MASONTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A pedestrian has been struck and killed by a train about 40 miles south of Pittsburgh. The Fayette County coroner's office confirmed Tuesday evening's death in Masontown but did not immediately release the victim's name.

Former Ridge fundraiser accused of embezzlement
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A woman who admitted stealing from former Gov. Tom Ridge's campaign fund faces new allegations that she embezzled more than $1 million from her employer. Court records show 44-year-old Laurie Simmons of Lemoyne has agreed to plead guilty to a wire fraud charge. It's for the money she allegedly stole from two companies operated by Joseph V. Sweeney and Associates, a Harrisburg-based real estate development and investment business. Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Simmons also consented
to forfeit property valued at more than $500,000. At her October 2000 sentencing for stealing from the Ridge campaign, Simmons expressed remorse. Her lawyer said she was emotionally distraught over the breakup of a 12-year relationship and needed money to pay debts.

Feds: Pa. school board member took bribes
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) - Federal prosecutors say a northeastern Pennsylvania school board member took bribes to help people get teaching jobs and contracts. But the affidavit supporting the charges against Wilkes-Barre Area School District board member Brian Dunn is sealed. A federal criminal complaint says he accepted tens of thousands of dollars between 2005 and the end of 2008. Dunn's lawyer says he denies the charge. Dunn is the second official to be charged in the federal government's investigation of corruption at the region's public schools. Last week, Pittston Area School District Superintendent Ross Scarantino was charged with accepting thousands of dollars in cash in return for awarding contracts.

Erie officer suspended 10 days for off-duty video
ERIE, Pa. (AP) - An Erie police officer has been suspended without pay for 10 days for making mocking comments about a homicide case and other matters in a barroom recording that was
posted on YouTube. Mayor Joe Sinnott said Tuesday that Officer James Cousins II must also undergo alcohol counseling and a fitness-for-duty evaluation. The mother of a homicide victim in question has called for Cousins' resignation. Yvette Jennings says Cousins tainted the memory of her son, Rondale Jennings Sr. Cousins can be seen on the video joking about Jennings' shooting death and mocking his mother's reaction.

Man kills woman, self in front of woman's daughter
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Police say a supervisor in the Philadelphia Department of Human Services walked up to a car and shot his ex-girlfriend to death, then turned the gun on himself as the woman's young daughter watched. Aleem Ali shot 35-year-old city court clerk Angela Jefferys on Tuesday morning outside her home in the city's West Oak Lane section.
Jefferys had just gotten into her parked car to take her 11-year-old daughter to school when Ali approached, pulled out a gun, and fired. Jefferys was killed instantly. The 45-year-old man then shot himself to death. The girl was uninjured. Authorities say Ali was angry at Jefferys because she had just ended their relationship.

TV debates rescheduled for Pittsburgh mayor's race
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Three Democrats in Pittsburgh's mayoral primary will appear in three locally televised debates after all. Two of the debates were canceled in the wake of the April 4
shootings of three city police officers, and it was unclear if they could be rescheduled before the May 19 primary. On Monday night, ABC affiliate WTAE-TV broadcast a live, in-studio debate.
KDKA-TV, the CBS affiliate, will now air a one-hour taped debate on May 2 at 7 p.m. WPXI-TV will produce the final debate, which will air May 4. That station is the city's NBC affiliate.

NEW YORK (AP) - A federal judge says the Somali pirate facing charges in the Maersk Alabama attack can be tried as an adult. Prosecutors say he's 18, but a defense lawyer says he's only 15.
The suspect's mother says her son was duped into piracy. A crew member says the suspect told him he wanted to come to the U.S.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A federal judge has unfrozen more than $13 million from Sudanese bank accounts to compensate the families of the 17 sailors killed in the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Last week's order releases the money to 59 family members.

HONG KONG (AP) - Most Asian markets faltered again today despite reassuring words from the United States about its banks. The U.S. says most of the country's hard-hit banks have enough capital to weather the global financial crisis. China and Hong Kong shares tumbled almost 3 percent. Wall Street futures point lower today.

WASHINGTON (AP) - A closer look at the mortgage foreclosure crisis shows four states with a major share of the problem. The tracking firm RealtyTrac says the 26 U.S. cities with the worst
foreclosure problems are concent rated in California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama is making an Earth Day pitch for alternative energy. Obama is touring a plant in Newton, Iowa, where Maytag used to make washers and dryers. Now, it's where a Texas company builds towers for wind turbines. Dozens of former
Maytag workers are employed at the plant.


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