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NH Senate Narrowly Defeats Death Penalty Repeal

New Hampshire's Senate narrowly failed to repeal the death penalty on Thursday, in a vote that capped weeks of emotional debate while focusing attention on the state's lone death row inmate, reports Reuters. The Senate deadlocked 12 to 12 on a bill to abolish capital punishment. Passage required a simple majority. New Hampshire's House had earlier passed the bill, and first-term Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, had said she would sign it.

 

New Hampshire would have been the 19th state to scrap the death penalty. The repeal would not have been retroactive, but the debate focused attention on Michael Addison, 33, who became New Hampshire's only death row inmate in 2008 for fatally shooting a policeman. New Hampshire has not executed a prisoner since 1939. There have been 17 executions in the U.S. so far this year. A Gallup poll released in October showed 60 percent of Americans favor capital punishment for convicted murderers, the lowest percentage since 1972.

 

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Missouri Authorities Charge Man in KC Highway Shootings

Mohammed Whitaker, 27, of Grandview, Mo., was charged with 18 felony counts related ta recent series of highway shootings in the Kansas City area, reports the city's Star. More charges may be added, prosecutors said. A series of at least 12 shootings started in early March, with the latest on April 6. Three victims were wounded in the spree.

Authorities said they knew of no motive, they believe Whitaker acted alone and that he had little criminal record. Whitaker was arrested Thursday night after police raided his residence. Tactical officers towed away a green Dodge Neon with Illinois license plates. The plates were registered to the suspect’s father, who said he was shocked by the developments. “I thought everything was okay with him,” his father said. “I just thought he was working and trying to pay off his college bills.”

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Gun Giveaways Thrive in GOP Campaign Playbook

Gun giveaways through online sweepstakes "have become one of the most useful tools for campaign outreach in the 2014 Republican primaries," reports the New York Times. Across the country, from a race for sheriff in California to the United States Senate primary in South Carolina, candidates are using high-powered pistols and rifles as a lure to build up their donor lists and expand their base of support.

The method may be new, but the concept is a durable campaign device. Those who enter gun sweepstakes often are solicited for contact information, then for support and money for a candidate. The NRA, which has been doing Publishers Clearinghouse-style gun sweepstakes since the 1980s, figured out the allure of free guns years ago. Instead of direct mail, it now employs a range of online campaigns, including Facebook-based contests that provide the organization with information-rich public profiles and lists of their friends. Millions of people have entered these contests, the group said.

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NM to End Conjugal Visits for Married Inmates

New Mexico will end conjugal visits between inmates and their spouses next month, leaving the once-widespread practice in place in only three U.S. states, reports Reuters. In addition to addressing concerns over pregnancies, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, and smuggled contraband, eliminating the program will save the state about $120,000 per year, New Mexico Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alex Tomlin said.

He said the state's research showed the overnight stays "had no impact on decreasing the rate of inmates returning to jail." The debate over conjugal visits has pitted political conservatives who view the practice as inconsistent with the ethic of punishment against some prison officials who say the visits improve inmate behavior and maintain family bonds. Soon only California, Washington and New York state prisons will permit conjugal visits. Federal prisons do not allow them. Mississippi, the first U.S. state to sanction sex for prisoners, ended its century-old program of conjugal visits in February.

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Sig Eps Close Ole Miss Chapter Over Noose Incident

The Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity has closed its University of Mississippi chapter after three members were accused of tying a noose around the neck of a statue of the first black student to enroll in the Southern college, reports the Associated Press. The decision was made by the national office of the fraternity, based in Richmond, Va., the university said.

The noose and a Confederate flag were placed on the James Meredith statue on the Oxford campus on Feb. 16. Three students, Sigma Phi Epsilon members whose names have not been released, are the subjects of ongoing university disciplinary proceedings, a spokesman said. The FBI also is still investigating. The local district attorney has said state charges won't be brought because no state laws were broken.

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Men Held Years Without Trial at Troubled MS Jail

A troubled county jail in Raymond, Miss., houses nearly 130 inmates who have been held for a year or more without trial, reports the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. And two men have been in the Hinds County Detention Center, 15 miles west of Jackson, for eight years and seven years, respectively, without going to trial. Each were known to have mental health issues when they were incarcerated.

Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons, 43, was jailed in November 2006 in connection with a stabbing death. Simmons had spent time in a state mental hospital and had been arrested at least twice on "lunacy" complaints. Jail records also show Lee Vernel Knight, 47, has been in the Raymond facility since December 2007, accused in the Christmas Day stabbing death of his brother. The Hinds County facility has been under scrutiny since a riot broke out there three weeks ago, leaving one inmate dead and seven injured. The county board of supervisors declared a state of emergency for the facility.

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Feds May Expand 'Active Shooter' Training at Texas School

A law enforcement training center based at Texas State University in San Marcos may receive millions of federal dollars to support programs that train officers how to handle situations like the recent Fort Hood shooting, reports the Texas Tribune. U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder this week cited the shooting as he asked Congress to authorize a combined $15 million for “active shooter response training” and other officer safety initiatives.

Texas State University is the national leader for active shooter training programs funded by the Department of Justice. It has trained more than 50,000 officers nationwide in the past decade, using more than $30 million in state and federal grant money. Active shooter training teaches law enforcement how to isolate, distract and neutralize an active shooter. It also shows officers how to effectively enter and move around a room when they’re handling a situation alone.

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Oregon Prisons Seek to Expand Inmate Visitations

Oregon prison officials are working to improve connections between inmates and their families, a response to studies that show prisoners who get visits are less likely to return to prison, reports the Oregonian. The basis is a November 2011 report by the Minnesota Department of Corrections that concluded visitation from siblings, in-laws, fathers and clergy "significantly decreased the risk of recidivism." The study suggested more "visitor friendly" prison policies.

Oregon officials discovered that 59 percent of the 14,000 state prisoners got no visitation. They set up a working group to improve that dismal percentage and recently circulated a survey to inmates to help guide ways they could improve visitation. Corrections officials also considered setting up prisoners with trained volunteer mentors and relaxing visitation rules for inmates who are in disciplinary housing units. They have also increased visiting hours and special events.

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Obama Fixes 'Kafka' Sentencing Goof With Clemency

President Obama this week cut prison time for a drug convict sentenced to more than three extra years because of a typographical error in a court order, reports the Associated Press. Ceasar Cantu is only the 10th inmate Obama has granted a commutation, and his case was unusual. He pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering after prosecutors said he used his Houston trucking company to help move tons of marijuana from Mexico through Texas and into Virginia.

He was sentenced in Danville, Va., in 2006 by U.S. District Judge Jackson Kiser, who based his decision on a pre-sentencing report that had a critical error in "base offense level" that takes into consideration the crime's severity and the defendant's criminal history. The report correctly listed Cantu's level at 34 in one part, but incorrectly listed it at 36 in the portion that calculated a recommended sentence of up to 22 years. Cantu discovered the error himself in 2012, but Kiser rejected his motion due to a statute of limitations. Obama fixed the problem with clemency. In an editorial, the New York Times called the case "a scenario that would make Kafka blush."

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BJS Report Measures Decline in Domestic Violence

Domestic violence in U.S. households declined sharply over the two decades ending in 2012, according a new data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics. BJS said the rate dropped 63 percent, from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older in 1994 to 5.0 per 1,000 in 2012. The data showed decreases in both serious domestic violence, including rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault, and simple assault.

Domestic violence accounted for 21 percent of all violent victimizations from 2003 to 2012, the report said. Nearly eight out of every 10 cases occurred at or near the victim's home. The findings are based on BJS’s National Crime Victimization Survey, which measures nonfatal crimes reported and not reported to police. Domestic violence includes rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault committed by intimate partners (current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends), immediate family members (parents, children or siblings) or other relatives.

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