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April 25, 2009

University Professor Suspected in Shooting of Wife, Three Left Dead

Three people were killed Saturday in a community theatre after a University of Georgia professor opened fire, said police officials. (New York Times)

Police identified George M. Zinkhan III, 57, a marketing professor at the university, as the suspected gunman. They were responding to an emergency call that was placed around 12:30 p.m. from the Athens Community Theatre in downtown Athens. Three people were found dead while at least one other person was left injured.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified one of the victims as Marie E. Bruce, 47, the wife of Zinkhan, as well as the president of the theatre’s board of directors. The other two victims, Ben Teague, 63, and Tom Tanner, 40, who were also board members. (New York Times)

Zinkhan is currently at large.

According to Athens-Clarke Assistant Police Chief Alan Brown, there is “some indication he may have had multiple weapons.” (USA Today)

According to the New York Times, Zinkhan had dropped his children off with a neighbor either immediately before of after the shooting.

Josh Gurley, 21, a student who was in Zinkhan’s course on consumer behavior at the university also said that the professor had suddenly canceled class last week and told students they didn’t need to take the class final exam. (New York Times)

April 18, 2009

Craigslist Casual Encounters Cast Under Spotlight

Craigslist, the online classifieds website, has come under scrutiny once more for its “Casual Encounters” section which allows users to search for anything from casual sex partners to one-night-stands.

According to Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, the Casual Encounters section of the website “was created in response to user demand for a section that allowed for a wide range of personal meeting and relationship options.” (New York Times)

Basically, the users asked for it so Craigslist delivered.

The forum, which was introduced in 2000, provides users to choose from personal advertisements posted by gay, straight, male and female members. Ads in the Casual Encounters section make up 2 percent of all Craigslist postings.

Questions and concerns regarding the legitimacy and legality of such personal advertisements, however, have placed the Craigslist Casual Encounters section under the spotlight once again.

On March 5, Sheriff Thomas Dart of Cook County, Ill., said at a news conference that the site was the “largest source of prostitution in America,” and filed a civil lawsuit to get Craigslist’s erotic personals shut down. (Wall Street Journal)

“They’ve actually catered their site so it facilitates (prostitution), where you can actually and more specifically and quickly get to what you want,” Dart said. “How is that different than somebody who’s aggressively and actively working with a pimp to try and get the words out about the women working for him?” (Wall Street Journal)

Prostitution on the site is a reality that no one is arguing with. According to the New York Times, in 2006 Nassau County set up a prostitution sting on Craigslist that routinely arrested prostitutes who were using the site. Craigslist responded to the investigation by charging a $5 fee and required the posting of phone numbers for anybody offering erotic acts. A statement released by the company said that the change resulted in an 80 percent drop in postings to that section.

So who should be held responsible for the posting of such advertisements in the first place? Since Dart’s news conference in May, a federal court has ruled that the site is immune to any liability for what a third party posts, so long as the site doesn’t directly help to create the content.

In a blog post by chief executive of Craigslist, Jim Buckmaster said that the site does not tolerate illegal activity and supported the fact that Craigslist has taken steps to try and reduce the amount of illegal activity that is currently taking place. (Wall Street Journal)

Although solicited sex online will continue to cause controversy until regulations ban the offerings of such acts, the Casual Encounters section of Craigslist will continue to function and flourish, constantly under the spotlight.

April 12, 2009

University Chairman Wins Suit After Controversial Comment on 9/11 Victims

A Denver jury has decided Thursday that Ward Churchill has been wrongfully dismissed from his job at the University of Colorado after causing national pandemonium when he referred to Sept. 11 terrorist attack victims as “little Eichmanns.”

Churchill, who was the chairman of the ethnic studies department at the university, was fired from his job in 2005 after the university launched an investigation into whether or not an essay written by Churchill was protected by free speech.

During the investigation, allegations arose saying that Churchill had committed plagiarism and academic misconduct in other writings that launched a second investigation. Churchill was then fired when a faculty report concluded that he had “plagiarized and falsified parts of his scholarly work on the persecution of American Indians.” (New York Times)

According to the Denver Post, Colorado University counsel Patrick O’Rourke said that the decision to dismiss Churchill from the university was based solely on the findings regarding Churchill’s plagiarism and academic misconduct and had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 essay.

“You cannot plagiarize, you cannot falsify, you cannot fabricate,” said O’Rourke. (Denver Post)

A Denver jury believed that the reason for Churchill’s firing had been for other reasons, however, when it agreed last week that the reason for Churchill’s firing was because of his political views. Churchill was awarded $1 in damages.

The decision to reinstate Churchill at the University of Colorado will be made sometime in the coming months as Judge Larry J. Naves of Denver District Court will either reinstate Churchill to his respective position or order the university to pay Churchill an annual salary for a period of time. (New York Times)

The essay, titled “Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” criticized American economic and foreign policies. Churchill compared some of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack victims to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, who constructed the extermination of the Jews during World War II.

April 5, 2009

Three Officers Fatally Shot in Pittsburgh Standoff

The Wall Street Journal reported that a gunman fatally shot three police officers Saturday morning in Pittsburgh after they responded to a domestic dispute between the gunman and his mother over a dog urinating in the house.

The argument that took place between Richard, 22, and Margaret Poplawski, 41, intensified to the point that she threatened to kick him out of the house and called police to help, according to a 12-page criminal complaint and affidavit filed late Saturday.

The episode began around 7 a.m. in the Stanton Heights neighborhood when a 911 call was placed to the Pittsburgh police. Officers Paul Sciullo III, 37, and partner Stephen Mayhle, 29, arrived on the scene where Margaret Poplawski opened her door and invited them in. Unbeknownst to her, Richard was standing behind her with a rifle.

Officer Sciullo was “immediately met with gunfire” and was fatally shot in the head, said Chief Nathan Harper of the Pittsburgh police. Another shot hit Officer Mayhle in the head, also killing him. Margaret Poplawski locked herself in the basement.

A third officer, Officer Eric Kelly, was arriving on the scene to aid both Sciullo and Mayhle after ending his shift minutes before. Kelly, 41, lived in the neighborhood just four blocks from the Poplawski home.

Officer Kelly was shot in the street as he exited his car. According to the New York Times, Kelly, who was critically wounded, managed to call for assistance and a SWAT team. The next officer to arrive, Timothy McManaway, was shot in the hand as he went to help Officer Kelly.

For the next four hours, neighbors reported hearing broken gunfire as both sides exchanged shots. At some point during the standoff, Mr. Poplawski’s mother left the house.

Around 11 a.m., police led Richard Poplawski from the house in handcuffs and has currently been charged with three counts of criminal homicide and nine counts of attempted homicide – one for each of the eight officers who were shot at in an armored SWAT vehicle, plus the injury of McManaway.

Poplawski is also being charged with possession of an instrument of crime: the bulletproof vest he wore during the gun battle. The criminal complaint doesn’t state where Poplawski obtained the vest although Police Chief Nate Harper Jr. said that the vest kept Poplawski from being seriously wounded.

It has now been confirmed that Poplawski was armed with an AK-47 rifle, a .22 long rifle and a pistol, weapons he had collected after the collapse of the economy.

According to neighbors, Poplawski had been kicked out of North Catholic High School and was dishonorably discharged from the Marines three years ago and had worked a variety of short-term jobs over the last couple years. (New York Times)

March 29, 2009

U.S. Looks to Help Lead International Climate and Energy Talks

The Obama administration announced Saturday that the U.S. will be a host for a meeting of major economies and representatives of 16 countries and the European Union to discuss climate change and energy issues.

The meetings, which will be held in Washington April 27-28, will be the first of two talks that will look at resolving issues that have prevented the development of an international climate treaty between countries that have been the largest emitters of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming.

A second set of meetings will be held in La Maddalena, Italy, in July.

Participants from the U.S., China and the U.K. will attend and will try to create concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a statement released by the White House. (New York Times)

Referred to as the Major Economics Meetings on Energy Security and Climate Change, the meetings will discuss issues such as emissions targets, technology funding, sectoral agreements, deforestation, trade tariffs and a raft of other complex issues that deal with cutting greenhouses gases. (Wall Street Journal)

President Barack Obama hopes that by having these meetings, momentum will build for the formation of a signed agreement to take place at the United Nations climate change negotiations in Copenhagen that are set to take place in December.

According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. officials say it is unlikely that Congress will pass any type of climate bill before Copenhagen. However, the White House is hoping to have something substantial that will give the U.S. negotiating influence by December.

February 9, 2009

Dead Man Exonerated of Rape Charges

The first posthumous DNA exoneration occurred Friday in the state of Texas when a man who died in prison while serving time for rape was cleared of all charges, USA Today reported.

Timothy Cole, who was 25-years-old in 1985 when he was convicted of raping a Texas Tech University student, had his record expunged from the charges when DNA tests conducted in 2008 connected the rape to Jerry Wayne Johnson.

Johnson, who is currently serving a life-sentence in prison for separate rape charges, testified in court Friday, admitting that he was the one responsible for the rape and apologized for his selfish behavior.

Cole died in prison in 1999 while serving his 25-year sentence from asthma complications at the age of 39. (New York Times)

The Innocence Project of Texas said that Cole’s case was the first posthumous DNA exoneration in the state.

Michele Mallin, the woman Cole was charged with raping, has come forward to publicly help clear Cole’s name.

Mallin had picked Cole’s photo out of a photo lineup and later identified him in a live lineup and again in court. She said that Lubbuck officials had portrayed Cole unjustly while handling her case.

Gary Wells, an Iowa State University professor and expert in witness testimony, said that lineups could be manipulated so that witnesses end up identifying the person who looks most like the one that committed the crime.

“If the real perpetrator is not in the lineup, it’s a horrible strategy,? Wells said. (USA Today).

February 1, 2009

Olympic Hero Pictured Smoking Marijuana, Apologizes for “Bad Judgment?

14-time Olympic gold medalist and swimmer, Michael Phelps is currently under fire over photos depicting the Beijing champion smoking marijuana from a bong.

First reported by the British tabloid News of the World Sunday, the winner of a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games was pictured holding a bong to his mouth, a device used for marijuana consumption, at a University of South Carolina house party back in November.

Originally in South Carolina to attend a school football game, the News of the World also reported that a witness says the sports phenomenon was “out of control from the moment he got there.? (News of the World)

Phelps released a statement to the Associated Press saying that he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,? and did not argue against the supposed authenticity of the picture. (USA Today)

Phelps had recently returned to the pool in January after a five-month hiatus following his Olympic victory to train for the 2009 World Championships in Rome.

Drug use in the sport of swimming is a violation, one that can result in an athlete’s suspension of anywhere from one year to a full lifetime ban. The use of marijuana would be considered a drug violation should an athlete’s test results come back positive.

This is not the first time Phelps has made the news regarding illegal activity. In 2004, after the Olympic Games in Athens where Phelps took home six gold and two bronze medals, he was arrested for driving under the influence at age 19. He has since apologized for his mistake.