DYLANN ROOF – A judge denied Dylann Roof’s request for a delay for his trial and instead appointed a 3rd defense attorney to his representation.  Two attorneys already on the case are public defenders Ashley Pennington and Bill McGuire.  They had asked Judge J.C. Nicholson to set aside the trial date set for the fall of 2016.  In his rejection ruling, he named Teresa Norris to help the two defenders.  Roof, is charged with 9 counts of murder, 3 counts of attempted murder, and firearms charges after he entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and gunned down the parishioners at a bible study meeting.  Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.  What’s complicating matters is that McGuire is already assigned to the capital trial of Cass Smith, who is accused of killing 3 people during a domestic violence incident and his trial is set to begin around the same time.  McGuire is lead capital attorney at the S.C. Commission on Indigent Defense.  Roof also faces 33 charges from the federal government, but no trial date has been set.

Sources:  Post and Courier

MCSTAY FAMILY MURDER – The defense for Chase Merritt, the suspect who is charged in the murders of Joseph, 40, Summer, 43, Gianni, 4, and Joseph Jr., 3, were given an interview by prosecutors that may point to other suspects.  Rajan Maline, Merritt’s attorney, said that “[there is a] connection to potentially drugs and drug dealers and things of that nature.  There’s a lot of third-party culpability in this case.”  A woman interviewed by the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office has yet to be identified and defense attorneys have yet to review the interview by investigators or interview her themselves.

“These are statements being made by people we don’t even know. We don’t know how credible it is,” Maline said, adding that the woman interviewed by district attorney’s investigators appeared to know things about the case that have not been released.

Merritt, 58, faces the death penalty if convicted for the sledgehammer beating deaths of the McStay family in their home on Feb. 4, 2010.  He was arrested in 2014 after the bodies were discovered.  Merritt has admitted publicly that he was the last person to have contact with the victims.  He was a business partner with Joseph McStay, but their relationship was reportedly on the rocks before the murder.  It is believed his motive was financial given his gambling problems.  Merritt’s debt included Joseph McStay giving him $30,000 to cover some of his gambling debts.  Police believe that Joseph McStay refused to bail Merritt out again.  The disappearance of the McStay family drew national media attention and rumors swirled that there was a link to drug cartels or that Summer McStay murdered her husband and fled with their children.  Internet amateur detectives wrote extensively about the McStays having financial problems (though that is untrue) and that Summer McStay had changed her identify several times (though that was for benign reasons).  They also cited the fact that Joseph McStay was sick not too long before his disappearance, implying Summer was attempting to poison him.  The vicious and hurtful comments were untrue and even a book written about the case had to be pulled for inaccurate theories.  The McStay family said they never believed Summer was involved.  In addition to the finger pointing at Summer McStay, Joseph’s brother who discovered the bodies and Joseph’s other business partner were also victims of social media sleuthing.

The family’s vehicle was found abandoned near the Mexican border and security footage showed a similar looking family crossing the border around the time.  In addition, authorities said there were searches on the computer about passports and Mexico.  Authorities eventually determined that the family was not the McStays.  Merritt gave several interviews on multiple specials and news channels about the case.   Merritt’s defense said that the Los Zetas, a drug cartel, are known to bludgeon people to death with a sledgehammer.  The family’s skeletal remains were discovered in the fall of 2013 buried in shallow graves in the Mojave Desert several miles north of their home.  In the wake of the family’s disappearance, Merritt wrote checks from Joseph McStay’s business account, cashed them, and then attempted to delete them from the computer software accounting program.  Joseph McStay hired Merritt to build custom, decorative water fountains for his online business Earth Inspired Products.  The defense attorneys said that the case is far from open and shut however.  There were tire tracks at the graves of the victims that are unknown.

Sources:  SBSUN

DR. KIERSTEN CERVENY – The New York Medical Examiner has officially found that Dr. Kiersten Cerveny died from acute cocaine and alcohol intoxication.  The manner of death was ruled accidental.  Police said that Cerveny went out with her friends and that there was alcohol and cocaine use at a bar on the Lower East Side.  At 2 a.m., she met up with someone she knew from Facebook, an HBO producer.  Between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., Cerveny left her friends with the man and traveled to an apartment building.  There she fell unconscious and was carried down the stairs of the building by two men (the HBO producer and the taxi driver) and her body was placed in the lobby.  At 8:32 a.m., police said the HBO producer called 911 and reported it.  But, before police arrived, both the taxi driver and the HBO producer left the scene.  When police arrived, Cerveny was alive, but unresponsive.  She later died at the hospital.  No one has been charged in her death.

Sources:  ABC7

PHILIP CHISM – Philip Chism’s jury selection was halted just as the 4th day of jury selection was to begin.  Essex County Superior Court Judge David Lowy stopped the jury selection for 20 days so that Chism could undergo “observation and examination” at a mental health institution to determine his competency to proceed.  The defense raised concerns that Chism might not understand the proceedings and a psychologist testified he made strange and disturbing statements.  The psychologist testified that he told her that he wished someone would kill him, that he was afraid every time someone walked behind him, that he wanted to commit suicide, and that he heard a voice that told him not to trust his attorneys.  The psychologist also testified that he bangs his head off of the floor.  Chism, 16, is charged as an adult in the murder and rape of his Danvers High School math teacher Colleen Ritzer in 2013.  Chism was 14 at the time.  The prosecutor, Kate MacDougall, said that the state believes Chism is faking his symptoms and that he is holding the trial “hostage”.  The trial began on October 7th.

Sources:  Boston Globe  |  Patch  |  WCVB

JASON YOUNG – Jason Young, 41, a medical software salesman, who was convicted of killing his pregnant wife in a televised retrial, might not get the new trial he was previously granted.  The N.C. Supreme Court issued a ruling that overturned the decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals that vacated Young’s 2012 conviction.  The justices have remanded the case back to the appeals court for further consideration.  A jury found Young guilty of bludgeoning his wife, Michelle, to death in 2006.  Michelle Young, 29, was found dead in the bedroom of the couple’s home.  The verdict came just 9 months after a first trial which ended in a deadlocked jury.  At issue was whether the appeals court erred in granting Young a new trial based upon the premise that prosecutors went too far when they introduced civil proceedings (wrongful death lawsuit) that Young didn’t participate in.  His in-laws won by default.  In civil proceedings, if one party does not participate, they are automatically found at fault and a judgment is entered against them.  In the civil trial, Young was found liable for his wife’s death, but even if a civil trial had actually occurred, the threshold for evidence is much lower as is the process for finding “guilt” or “innocence”.  In criminal trials, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone is guilty, but in civil trials, a plaintiff must only prove by preponderance of evidence that someone should be held monetarily liable for something.  The appeals court had found that Young’s presumption of innocence was “irreparably diminished” in part by prosecutor’s evidence about the wrongful death lawsuit and default ruling declaring Young liable for his wife’s death.  Young has maintained that he was away at a business trip at the time of the murder.  The prosecutor argued that Young did go on a business trip, but that he traveled back home under the guise of night to murder his wife and then returned to his business trip to create an alibi.   The defense argued for the retrial stating that allowing civil proceeding evidence into a criminal trial not only impacted this case, but also would impact how prosecutors secure and present evidence in other cases.  In addition, the case allowed civil proceedings to be used as a “pawn”.

In 2014, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that prosecutors prevented a fair trial by introducing this alleged evidence.  The prosecution appealed arguing that jurors were told not to consider the civil proceeding testimony or evidence “toward the truth of the matter”.  Instead, they were told to only consider why they thought Young refused to respond to the allegations.  Prosecutors contend the reason was because Young killed his wife and didn’t want extensive questioning at the civil proceedings.  Defense attorneys argued that he didn’t respond because Young didn’t have the finances to defend against the lawsuit and he planned to share custody of his daughter with his in-laws (another part of the lawsuit).  At trial prosecutors also argued that the motive for the murder was the fact that Young didn’t want to be married anymore to his wife, but didn’t want to lose anything in divorce proceedings.  They introduced evidence of Young’s affairs during the trial.  The murder case was largely based upon circumstantial evidence including the fact that shoes Young was known to wear matched the type of shoe print found at the scene (though other unidentified prints were found as well) and the fact that Michelle Young’s wedding ring was never found and witnesses testified that Young had an “obsession” with rings.  The appeals court is still considering Young’s other arguments.

Sources:  NewsObserver  |  WRAL


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