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News of the Weird

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LEAD STORY: Sonette Ehlers of Kleinmond, South Africa, recently invented a tampon-like sheath that she says will reduce the disturbing number of rapes that plague the country, but local anti-violence leaders are skeptical, as well as alarmed. The device folds around the penis with microscopic hooks and, once engaged, requires medical intervention to remove. (It may also incidentally inhibit the transmission of HIV.) Critics call it impractical (since one must be worn constantly) and barbaric, and a distraction from other solutions to the rape crisis. The devices are expected to be available in pharmacies starting in July, for 1 rand each (about 15 cents).

Finer Points of Law: Registered sex offender James Andrew Crawford, 35, was arrested in May in Perris, Calif., after having camped for two weeks in a theater line that was waiting for Star Wars: Episode III to open. According to a Riverside County deputy sheriff, Crawford was in violation of a state law that requires sex offenders to notify the government if they adopt a new "domicile" for more than five days.In June, Marc Ferrara, 43, was convicted in Jersey City, N.J., in the 1982 hammer-beating death of his girlfriend, but perhaps because of testimony that the victim had hit Ferrara first, the jury found him guilty only of aggravated manslaughter instead of murder. Unknown to the jury, however, the state Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the manslaughter statute in effect in 1982 was subject to a five-year statute of limitations (since changed), which meant that Ferrara could not be convicted, and, thus, he walked free.

Signs of the Times: Methamphetamine blues: Dentists interviewed for a June New York Times story said they are increasingly seeing patients who are addicted to caustic methamphetamine chemicals and who demonstrate "meth mouth," in which healthy teeth turn grayish-brown and "begin to fall out, and take on a peculiar texture less like that of hard enamel and more like that of a piece of ripened fruit." And in March in Carthage, Tenn., Scott Stewart was sentenced to eight years in prison for running a home meth lab, despite his insistence that his goal was mainly to ensure that his meth was "safe" from the harmful chemicals other makers were putting into their products.Among the accusations against Glenn Marcus, 52, arrested in New York City in May for allegedly detaining women and torturing them as sex slaves, are that he forced one of his victims to also create a website for him to market his sex photos and another victim to operate the website for up to 10 hours a day.

Ironies: The South Carolina House's Judiciary Committee, voting in mid-April on two bills to upgrade the crimes of, respectively, gamecock fighting and spousal abuse, from misdemeanors to felonies, passed the former but tabled the latter for the remainder of 2005. Jerry Adams, deputy finance commissioner of Tennessee, was stranded for 13 hours in an elevator in the state Capitol in May without the use of the emergency telephone because the phone's line had been disconnected over the state's nonpayment of the bill.

Recurring Themes: Latest toilet litigation: Scott A. Keller filed a lawsuit in March against the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, claiming he was seriously injured when a wall-mounted toilet at a rest stop collapsed, sending him to the floor, causing whiplash and other injuries to his neck and back. And John Jenkins, 53, filed a lawsuit in Morgantown, W.Va., in June against general contractor Chisler Inc. and another company, claiming that a portable toilet at a construction site exploded while he was using it (due to leaking methane gas underneath, which his cigarette ignited). Jenkins said he suffered severe burns to his face, neck, arms, torso and legs.

Patience: Michelle Alabaster, 36, of Bexleyheath, England, finally prevailed in May, nine years after filing her lawsuit against her then-employer for having (illegally, she contended) awarded her vacation pay at the rate she was making on the date of her application for vacation instead of the rate she was making on the last day before vacation. Her total winnings: the equivalent of about $495, including interest. But more money was at stake in the battle in New York between Nicholas Purpura, 62, and his ex-wife, Barbara, who married in 1983 and have been fighting over millions of dollars since their 1988 divorce. The New York Post reported in March that the case is "lurching to an end." ©2005 Chuck Shepherd

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