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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Critics recently urged the Defense Department to cancel a $2 million contract with Louisiana State University that involves shooting hundreds of cats in the head. The government wants to learn how to return brain-injured soldiers to active duty; so far tests have revealed only that shooting into the brain causes cats to stop breathing.

Court Reporter

At a September meeting, a grand jury in White County, Georgia, indicted one of its members (a former president of the county Democratic Party) in a stock-fraud scheme after asking the man to leave the room briefly. When he returned, the grand jury continued to hand down indictments in other cases.

Robert Foster, a juvenile court judge in Jacksonville, Florida, had the mouth of a 14-year-old boy sealed with tape after the boy repeatedly swore at the judge during September proceedings. The boy's mother said, "I told him a thousand times about his mouth."

Scott Brenatelli, 29, born with both male and female sex organs and once married to Cynthia Fornari, is suing her in Gainesville, Florida, for custody of their son, conceived through a surrogate father. To prove Fornari unfit as a parent, Brenatelli sought testimony from convicted serial killer Gerald Stano, who allegedly said that Fornari once helped him clean a murdered woman's blood from a car. To gain custody, Brenatelli also has to overcome the problem that, at the time of his marriage, he was legally a woman.

Compelling Explanations

Donald J. Talmont, 20, was charged with criminal damage to property after he rammed his car into ten trees and three street signs in Milwaukee in August. Police quoted him as saying that he only gets that way during a lunar eclipse.

Rock singer Ted Nugent, delivering an antidrug message in September in Romulus, Michigan, told listeners to hunt instead. "If Elvis Presley was a hunter, he'd be alive today."

Singer Rita Coolidge, trying to draw attention to the plight of the homeless in New Orleans, said in September that she favored tougher tax laws for the rich and that she planned to tell her accountant "immediately" to figure out how she could pay higher taxes.

The Only Way Out

Jesse Aguilar, 42, coach of a Little League team and allegedly obsessed with his star pitcher, a 16-year-old girl, shot himself to death in August in Loomis, California.

Letter carrier Charles Palmer shot himself to death in Hilton Head, South Carolina, earlier this year, two days before his trial for mail fraud was to start. He had been accused of ordering more than 300 magazine subscriptions for an optometrist as retaliation for an unsatisfactory pair of eyeglasses prescribed for him in 1988.

Dennis O'Connor, 39, distraught over a charge of passing fraudulent checks, wrapped himself in toilet paper and set himself on fire at a jail in Santa Clara, California, in August. His plans were frustrated when the fire tripped a smoke detector.

Government in Action

Errors in the system used by Paris police to code law violations resulted in the recent misclassification of 41,000 people accused of crimes. People with traffic tickets were accused of manslaughter and soliciting prostitutes, accused murderers were ordered to pay fines of about $230, and running a red light was classified as importing unauthorized veterinary medicine.

The city council in Moultrie, Georgia, received $700,000 in state funds in August to tear down three blocks of slum housing occupied mainly by drug dealers, but then discovered that the buildings are subject to historic preservation laws. Crack sales continued as officials debated what to do.

In June, 38 police officers in Los Angeles were disciplined for inappropriate behavior during raids against street-gang strongholds. Their behavior included spray painting "LAPD Rules," "Opie Dog Rules," and "Rolling 30s Die" and forcing some gang members to whistle the theme from the Andy Griffith Show.

The open-spaces ordinance governing Woodstock, New York, became law only after one of the town's zoning commissioners, Ed Sanders, formerly a member of the 1960s musical group the Fugs, performed the Fugs' song "Refuse to Be Burnt Out" for the proprietor of a photocopy shop in order to get copies of the proposed ordinance made by deadline.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.

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