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News of the Weird

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Self-help in the extreme: Between June and August, high school dropout Jonathan Harris, 34, acted as his own lawyer in three Philadelphia felony cases and won them all, including a murder trial that could have sent him to death row. At press time, he had scheduled two more for himself, on a 2001 gun charge and at a new trial on several lesser charges related to the murder (although he had taunted a prosecutor in court about taking him on again). The prosecutor blamed the murder verdict on unreliable and no-show witnesses.

Brain-dead: Zachary G. Holloway, 20, and a pal were arrested in Springfield, Ill., in September and charged with breaking into one car (and stealing, among other things, a motorcycle helmet) and attempting to break into another. To try to get into the second car, Holloway put on the helmet, stood back from the car, and charged into it, head-butting a window, unsuccessfully, twice. The two were arrested shortly afterward.

Can't you just feel the hurt?: In July, Jamila Glauber filed a lawsuit against the transit system in Juneau, Alaska, because a driver's attempt to enforce the well-known no-eating rule on a bus (it was a Snickers bar) caused her, she says, at least $50,000 worth of emotional distress. ... Last month, Kenneth Williams, in jail near San Diego, awaiting trial for raping an underage girl, filed a lawsuit against the facility because of the mental stress and anguish and weight loss caused by finding a fly in his mashed potatoes. ... Also in June, the post office in Fulton, Mo., removed a tape dispenser that had long been available for customers to seal packages, because a customer had hurt himself using it and had filed a claim against the Postal Service.

Sweet cheeks: In August, Tom Jennings filed an appeal to his earlier dismissal as public affairs manager for Mobile (Ala.) Area Water and Sewer System, which was caused by his having had pornography on his office computer. In the appeal, Jennings blamed most of the downloading on other people, but took responsibility for a file labeled "buttshot" (an image of his own buttocks), claiming that it was photographed accidentally when he was changing clothes and that the only reason he loaded it onto his computer was "because I wanted to talk to some of my friends about deleting it."

Legislature in action: Arizona law treats selling, downloading, trading or buying child pornography as the equivalent of actually molesting a child, with a penalty of 10 to 24 years per count, with multiple counts to run consecutively. Two high school teachers (convicted of photos-only, no child interaction) are now serving 200 and 408 years (the latter for having 17 photos) in prison, respectively. Critics point out, according to a May report in the The Arizona Republic, that there are cold-blooded murderers serving less time in the state, and that a life sentence without possibility of parole could be obtained by as few as 12 computer-mouse clicks at a pornography website.

Quality time with the kids: Police in Avon Park, Fla., charged April Marie Brown, 28, with criminal mischief after she allegedly, at the direction of her 12-year-old son, drove him and a pal around town on a Saturday night as the kids vandalized 11 stop signs, doing more than $1,000 damage. ... In September, according to Wichita Falls, Texas, police, Joann Rubio, 31, drove her pickup truck alongside a truck driven by a 19-year-old man, so that her 16-year-old son in the passenger seat could shoot the man; he was hit once, and mother and son were later arrested.

Recurring themes: Latest Street Price for a Child: $250 (Judith Ann Garland, 20, was convicted in Baltimore in September of offering a 2-year-old boy because she needed $250 for bail on drug charges). ... Latest Cat to Inherit an Estate: Tinker, a black stray taken in by Margaret Layne, who died in May at age 89 in London, England (inherited a house worth about $600,000 and a trust fund worth about $175,000).

Also in the last month: Police decided not to charge Lula Brown for 911 abuse even though she had called the emergency number just to report that a McDonald's tried to charge her for extra barbecue sauce (Avon, Ohio). A fisherman had to be rushed to a hospital by helicopter after the bull shark he had just caught and was posing for photos with bit his arm (Freeport, Texas). With United Nations funding, the pygmy musical group Ndima released a 10-track CD of songs backed by music made by animal horns, rawhide drums and bamboo pipes (Republic of the Congo).

2003 Chuck Shepherd

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