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News of the Weird, by Chuck Shepherd

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Lead Stories

On April 3, less than 24 hours before he was due to be executed for beating three people to death with a bowling pin in 1991, Phillip Wilkinson was taken off North Carolina's death row and scheduled for mental evaluation because guards found two suicide notes in his cell. Apparently, prison officials believed that Wilkinson might be insane and therefore could not be executed. And in Texas convicted murderer David Lee Herman slashed his throat on April 1, a day before his scheduled execution, but was patched up and given his lethal injection only one day late.

In April the town council of Cambre in northern Spain voted to assign a legal, marriage-like status to nontraditional unions. The resulting controversy was not over a same-sex couple but the recent nuptials of Daniel Pena and his sister Rosa Moya Pena, who have lived together for 18 years and have kids aged five and eleven. The council's decision provoked outrage all over the country.

In April Leslie Joseph Moran, 20, was sentenced to probation in Regina, Saskatchewan, for shoplifting, with the condition that he not wear designer-label clothing for the next two years. Moran is said to find Nike and Chicago Bulls items irresistible.

The Litigious Society

Valerie Nicolescu filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department in April for letting her son (one of two heavily armed, armor-suited men in a notorious February 28 bank robbery and shoot-out) bleed to death by not giving him medical care soon enough after he was shot by officers. In a separate matter, Nicolescu herself is in court these days because police found a mentally retarded woman in her care locked in a room in Nicolescu's basement along with several buckets being used as toilets.

Chris Steen filed a $55,000 lawsuit against the town of Ipswich, South Dakota, in February after he fell on a sidewalk that had rough edges. He claims the town failed to maintain the sidewalk in good condition, which is not an unusual complaint, except that Steen is the mayor of Ipswich.

Carolyn Strauss filed a $1 million lawsuit against the New York lottery in March because she was offended by its advertisements in the subway. Strauss, who is five feet seven inches tall and weighs 200 pounds, felt personally insulted by an ad that suggested the lottery was a less onerous way to make money than marrying "the client's big-boned daughter."

A 1994 lawsuit filed by Judge Philip Espinosa, 44, of the Arizona court of appeals against singer Barry Manilow will finally go to trial in September. Espinosa said he still has a painful ringing in his ears from a Manilow concert in Tucson. He admitted that his wife was upset: "She loves Barry." And in February a New York judge tossed out a lawsuit filed by Clifford Goldberg against the heavy-metal band Motley Crue. Goldberg claimed a 1990 concert was too loud, giving him a "searing pain" through his ears. The judge said everyone at a Motley Crue concert knows it's going to be loud.

In March five people filed a lawsuit in Nagoya, Japan, against Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto for about $950 in damages, claiming that his support for smoking causes them mental anguish and deprives them of the healthy life they are entitled to under Japan's constitution. Hashimoto had promised the nation that since cigarettes are heavily taxed, he would continue to smoke frequently while in office.

In October Kim Novacs told reporters she would file a $1 million lawsuit in West Palm Beach, Florida, against an alligator that her husband killed the year before. Keith Novacs shot the 6-foot-long gator after it scared the couple's little girl, for which he was convicted of poaching. Mrs. Novacs cited a 1993 Florida court case in which an endangered animal was named as a plaintiff in a case and argued that if such an animal can be a plaintiff, it can be a defendant, with the state game and fish commission liable for any damages.

Great Time To Be Silver

In February a 20-year-old man and three teenagers broke into the home of Dorothy Cunningham, 75, and Ms. Marty Killinger, 61, in Moses Lake, Washington, allegedly to rob them. However, both women were armed and drove the would-be robbers away with warning shots. The four were arrested a short distance from the home.

The Associated Press reported in March that Mario Dulceno, 81, of New Orleans believes he can continue his avocation as a stripper for another "two, three years." According to the dispatch, "Although time has wrinkled his skin, there's little flab, his legs are nicely shaped, and he sports an even tan." Said a club owner, "The women went crazy over him. I call him Super Mario."

In Ashdod, Israel, a 93-year-old woman was arrested in March for peddling heroin to police officers who had knocked on her door. According to police, the woman's eyesight is failing, and she thought they were her regular customers. And in Adrian, Michigan, Lillian Howard, 84, was arrested in January for attempting to smuggle marijuana hidden in her underwear to her son during a visit to Gus Harrison Prison.

Least Competent Criminal

In April Jeffrie Allen Thomas, 35, was arrested and charged with robbing a Signet bank in Baltimore. After an employee called police during the robbery, two officers on foot patrol quickly arrived to find Thomas still in the bank counting his money. Thomas was also charged with robbing the same bank a month before.

No Longer Weird

Adding to the list of stories that were formerly weird but which now occur with such frequency that they must be retired from circulation: The burglar who sneaks into a home or building intending to loot the place but who falls asleep before he can get to work, as allegedly did Brian Hodgson, 28, who was arrested in September after the ceiling at a McDonald's in Pompano Beach, Florida, gave way, disturbing his slumber; and the family that leaves behind one or more members at a highway rest stop and fails to realize they are shorthanded until far down the road, as happened in April to a 9-year-old boy whose father left him in Lloydminster, Manitoba, and did not miss him until he got home to Red Deer, Alberta, nearly 200 miles away.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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

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