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EarthLink – News

US Supreme Court to review Kansas’ lack of insanity defense
By JOHN HANNA | Sun, October 6, 2019 10:19 EDT
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider how far states can go toward eliminating the insanity defense in criminal trials as it reviews the case of a Kansas man sentenced to die for killing four relatives.
The high court planned to hear arguments Monday in James Kraig Kahler’s case. He went to the home of his estranged wife’s grandmother about 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of Topeka the weekend after Thanksgiving 2009 and fatally shot the two women and his two teenage daughters.
Not even Kahler’s attorneys have disputed that he killed them. They’ve argued that he was in the grips of a depression so severe that he experienced an extreme emotional disturbance that disassociated him from reality.
In seeking a not guilty verdict due to his mental state, his defense at his 2011 trial faced what critics see as an impossible legal standard. His attorneys now argue that Kansas violated the U.S. Constitution by denying him the right to pursue an insanity defense.
The nation’s highest court previously has given states broad latitude in how they treat mental illness in criminal trials, allowing five states, including Kansas, to abolish the traditional insanity defense. Kahler’s appeal raises the question of whether doing so denies defendants their guaranteed right to due legal process.
“Maybe they will establish some ground rules,” said Jeffrey Jackson, a law professor at Washburn University in Topeka. “They’ve been vague about what the standard is, and maybe now they’re going to tell us.”
Until 1996, Kansas followed a rule first outlined in 1840s England, requiring defendants pursuing an insanity defense to show that they were so impaired by a mental illness or defect that they couldn’t understand that their conduct was criminal. Now Kansas permits defendants to only cite “mental disease or defect” as a partial defense, and they must prove they didn’t intend to commit the specific crime. Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Utah have similar laws.
Christopher Slobogin, a professor of both law and psychiatry at the Vanderbilt University, said even seriously mentally ill defendants typically intend to the commit their crimes, even if their acts result from delusions.
“John Hinckley intended to kill President Reagan. He would not have had a defense in Kansas,” Slobogin said. “Name an insanity case, the person would not have had a defense in Kansas.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt argues that the Supreme Court has previously taken a “laboratories of democracy approach” so that states can try to improve criminal justice.
“Scholars and practitioners have struggled for literally hundreds of years to decide to how to handle evidence of a criminal defendant’s mental condition,” Schmidt said in an interview. “Kansas is merely continuing the long tradition of trying different approaches.”
Kahler’s attorneys contend he snapped under the strain of crumbling personal and professional lives. His estranged wife, Karen, was in a relationship with another woman and was seeking a divorce. He had lost his job as utilities director in Columbia, Missouri, and moved back to Kansas weeks earlier to live with his parents.
Karen Kahler and their three children were spending the Thanksgiving 2009 weekend at the home of Karen’s grandmother, Dorothy Wight, in Burlingame. James Kahler shot the women, then found his daughters and killed them. His young son, Sean, fled to a neighboring house and later testified at his father’s trial.
Slobogin, who helped write a handbook for attorneys and mental health professionals on psychological evaluations for courts, said insanity defenses typically arise in less than 1% of felony cases, and when those cases go to trial, the defendant loses three out of four times.
Still, Kansas legislators enacted the tougher standard in response to a push by crime victims, family members and friends.
They argued that defendants who escaped prison could be released from a state mental hospital after a relatively short stay. A report to state lawmakers in 1994 said that in the previous five years, 39 people who had been found not guilty by reason of insanity were confined to a state hospital. The average length of stay was 14½ months.
Supporters also argued that the new method was more straightforward for juries. Schmidt called it “simpler, cleaner and less confusing.”
But Jackson said: “Most standards that eliminate part of the defense are simpler for juries to understand.”
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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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Police: 3 dead, 1 missing after car plunges into canal
Sun, October 6, 2019 08:58 EDT
MIDDLETOWN, Del. (AP) — A car with five occupants plunged into a Delaware canal on Sunday and the driver helped a teenage girl to safety before dying in a bid to rescue three other passengers, two of whom were found dead after the car was hoisted from the water, authorities said.
Delaware State Police said they initially found the body of the 18-year-old male driver in the water after he had helped a 16-year-old girl make it safely to shore. A police statement said two more passengers, boys ages 12 and 16, were pronounced dead hours later after the car they were riding in was recovered Sunday afternoon. The final passenger, a 6-year-old boy, wasn’t found and remained unaccounted for late Sunday, according to police.
Authorities said they are investigating how the car ended up in the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal around 9:40 a.m. Sunday. A state police spokesman, Master Cpl. Michael Austin, praised the teen driver at a news conference, saying he had sought to rescue the others.
“He was a hero,” Austin said Sunday afternoon. “He tried to do everything he could to help the remaining passengers in that vehicle.”
The driver worked to free the girl, who first responders later found sitting on the banks of the canal after a bystander had called 911, the Delaware News Journal first reported. Crews from multiple law enforcement agencies then worked for hours to remove the car from the canal, pulling it out after 5 p.m. in what was described as a multi-agency recovery operation.
Austin said the male driver and the boys were related and that the girl was an acquaintance. All were Delaware residents but none were immediately identified pending notification of relatives.
The canal is about 35 feet (more than 10 meters) deep, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
State police said the situation unfolded about a mile (.6 kilometers) west of a State Route 1 bridge in Delaware.
The driver’s body was found in the waters a short time after emergency responders were called and the bodies of the two boys were discovered in the vehicle when it was pulled out of the waters hours later, police said. They added that they continue the searching for the missing 6-year-old.
Police, fire, maritime units and a dive team and paramedics all took part in the effort. Authorities said a state police collision reconstruction unit is continuing to investigate how the car went into the canal.
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Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com

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Latest: Restaurant owner among 5 hurt in electrical blasts
Sun, October 6, 2019 05:19 EDT
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on explosions at an Oktoberfest festival in Southern California (all times local):
2:15 p.m.
The owner of a restaurant had evacuated a dining area about 40 minutes before a series of electrical vault explosions injured him and four others during an Oktoberfest celebration in Southern California.
Revelers scrambled for safety after the blasts sent flames shooting into the sky Saturday night at Old World Village, a German-themed dining and shopping complex in Huntington Beach.
Owner Bernie Bischoff called firefighters and cleared the dining area after noticing an odd smell coming from the electrical vault, Old World spokesman Dan Escamilla says.
Escamilla tells the Long Beach Press Telegram that Bischoff was severely burned in the explosions. Two firefighters and two restaurant employees suffered minor injuries.
The newspaper says the initial blast blew a vault door off its latch.
The cause is under investigation.
Sunday’s Oktoberfest events are canceled.
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8:45 a.m.
Authorities say five people were hurt in a series of electrical vault explosions during an Oktoberfest celebration in Southern California.
Officials in Huntington Beach said Sunday that four people, including two firefighters, had minor injuries. One person suffered moderate to severe injuries.
The blasts Saturday night caused chaos as hundreds gathered for the annual event at Old World Village in Huntington Beach.
Firefighters were called to the scene for a reported electrical fire. The Long Beach Press Telegram reports the initial blast splattered heated mineral oil used to cool the transformers — and possibly ignited subsequent explosions.
About 1,700 customers lost power. Southern California Edison crews worked overnight to replace three damaged transformers in the vault and restore service.
The incident is under investigation.
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10 p.m.
Authorities say multiple injuries were reported after a series of utility pole explosions Saturday night at the Old World Village complex in Huntington Beach, the Long Beach Press-Telegram reports.
Fire officials say among those who were injured were patrons of the shopping and dining complex and fire personnel, the newspaper reports.
The Press-Telegram says the source of the explosions may have been an electrical transformer.
While a heavy presence of fire and police personnel tended to the injured, hundreds of others attending an Oktoberfest event evacuated the area.
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9:49 p.m.
Authorities have rushed to the scene of explosions at a festival in a Los Angeles suburb, KTLA TV reports.
The explosions at the Old World Oktoberfest in Huntington Beach were reported about 8 p.m., KTLA says. The explosions took place at the Old World Huntington Beach complex.
Witness Kyle Nelson tells the TV station that he heard and saw three large explosions in rapid succession coming from the festival.
The Orange County Register reports multiple ambulances were on scene and at least one injured person was taken out of a building at the venue.
The village has been hosting Oktoberfest events, but it was evacuated after the incident Saturday night.

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Portugal’s Socialists win election, now eye alliances
By BARRY HATTON 10:00 EDT
LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s Socialist Party had little time Monday to savor its general election victory, as tough negotiations for parliamentary support loomed and the economy braces for leaner times.
The center-left Socialists won Sunday’s general election with 36.6% of the vote and are preparing to govern for another four years. The main opposition Social Democratic Party came second with almost 28%. Portugal, unlike some other European Union nations, has not seen a surge in nationalistic, far-right or populist parties, although one such party earned a seat for the first time.
The Socialists, however, are 10 seats shy of a majority in the 230-seat parliament. To ensure that its legislation is approved, the government will need support from other parties.
A healthy economy, with growth of 2.1 % last year and unemployment at around 6%, helped the Socialist Party back into the Sao Bento Palace, the seat of power in Lisbon.
The Socialists have also earned praise around Europe for taming Portugal’s chronic overspending, with Finance Minister Mario Centeno bringing the budget deficit close to zero this year.
Antonio Costa, the Socialist leader and incumbent prime minister, said in his victory speech that he intends to continue his business-friendly policies and prudent fiscal management.
But economic troubles are brewing in Europe, and once the election results were known the radical Left Bloc and Portuguese Communist Party — the most obvious candidates for an alliance — were quick to issue demands for more spending.
The Left Bloc snared 19 seats and the Communist Party got 12.
Left Bloc leader Catarina Martins said her party’s demands in return for support would include the re-nationalization of the national postal service CTT, which was privatized in 2014, and a boost in public investment in housing and transport.
The Communists want the minimum monthly wage to rise to 850 euros ($932) from 600 euros, an increase in pensions and free pre-school for all children up to three years old, among other things.
Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at London-based consultancy Teneo, said he didn’t expect many changes in the country’s political path.
“Regardless of the final configuration of the government, it is unlikely that the Costa II administration will implement significant economic reforms,” he said.
The next government faces plenty of economic challenges.
Apart from signs of a broad slowdown in the European Union, looming on the horizon is the United Kingdom’s impending departure from the EU, now scheduled for Oct. 31. The U.K. is one of Portugal’s main export markets.
Portugal also has a government debt equivalent to more than 120% of its gross domestic product — the third highest in the EU — so any interest rate rise could be deeply damaging.
The country’s aging population, meanwhile, is threatening the financing of Portugal’s welfare system. The EU says at current fertility rates, the number of Portuguese will decline from 10.3 million this year to 6.6 million in 2100.
Climate change is another problem, especially in the southern half of the country where rainfall is increasingly scarce.
Three relatively new parties also earned seats in parliament, including right-wing populist party Chega, which got more than 66,000 votes from the 10.8 million eligible voters and a seat in the Republican Assembly, Portugal’s parliament.
It may take several weeks of negotiations before a new government takes office.

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California man hailed as hero after explosion at Oktoberfest
Sun, October 6, 2019 05:49 EDT
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Five people were hurt and revelers scrambled for safety when a series of explosions in an underground electrical vault sent flames shooting into the sky during an Oktoberfest celebration at a German-themed shopping and dining complex in Southern California, authorities said Sunday.
The first blast blew a vault door off its hinges and knocked several people to the ground after firefighters responded to reports of a possible electrical fire Saturday evening at Old World Village in Huntington Beach, witnesses and officials said.
Two firefighters and two restaurant employees were treated for minor injuries, according to Battalion Chief Jeff Lopez with the city’s fire department. Bernie Bischoff, the owner of Old World restaurant, was seriously hurt, Oktoberfest spokesman Dan Escamilla said.
He was hospitalized in “rough shape,” with second- and third-degree burns to 38% of his body, Escamilla told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Bischoff had evacuated the dining area about 40 minutes before the blast, after noticing an odd smell from the area of the vaults, he said.
“He’s a hero,” Escamilla said, adding that more people could have been hurt if the dining area had been full.
The first explosion splattered heated mineral oil used to cool the transformers and possibly ignited subsequent blasts, authorities said at a press conference. The cause is under investigation.
Witnesses said they heard as many as three explosions coming from the annual celebration about 35 miles (62 kilometers) south of downtown Los Angeles.
Megan Houck, 26, said she saw flames come up from the floor near a patio area.
“It was just like one giant fireball that went up,” she told the Press Telegram. “And then there was a second explosion maybe 10 or 20 seconds later.”
Houck said the flames went well above the roof of the village, up to 40 feet (12 meters) in the air.
Revelers, some wearing traditional German costumes including lederhosen, ran from the scene as police evacuated the complex.
Southern California Edison crews worked through the night to replace three damaged transformers in the vault and restore power, spokesman Robert Villegas said. As many as 1,700 customers lost electricity, he said.
Pat Brassil, 27, said he was outside one of the Oktoberfest tents when he saw flames shoot out from another tent near the festival’s entrance.
“It just lit up the sky,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Everyone was going pretty crazy and screaming.”

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