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News of the Weird

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Lead Story

Nancy Alperin, 47, and Kendra Keller, 48, filed a lawsuit in February charging their former employer, the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California, with sexual discrimination and wrongful termination. The foundation is the home of Koko, a 33-year-old female gorilla that (some researchers claim) has acquired a vocabulary of over 1,000 words in American Sign Language (others dispute this). According to the suit, foundation president Francine Patterson, who has worked with Koko since 1972, repeatedly pressured Alperin and Keller to show Koko their nipples in order to better bond with her. Patterson allegedly had been showing her own nipples to Koko for some time and suggested that Koko was bored with them. The suit contends that Patterson interpreted Koko's hand gestures as a demand to see nipples and warned Alperin and Keller that their jobs would be in danger if they didn't comply.

Government in Action

In a January article in which a Florida supreme court justice criticized the performance of private defense lawyers hired by the state to handle death-row appeals, the Tampa Tribune reported that death-row inmate Curtis Beasley had been abandoned by state-hired attorney Michael Giordano. This was discovered only by chance months later when a storage facility to which Giordano owed back rent found some of Beasley's case files and called the attorney general's office phone number listed on them. The article said state officials had been unable to contact Giordano since.

In January the city commission of Sweetwater, Florida, approved a money-raising plan to sell guns confiscated by police to Lou's Gun Shop in nearby Hialeah, which according to one national study sells more guns that are later used in crimes than any other dealer in the state.

Prosecutors in Nassau County, New York, brought a misdemeanor case before a grand jury in February. Self-proclaimed legal-system gadflies Harvey Kash, 70, and Carl Lanzisera, 65, were arrested on disorderly conduct charges a month earlier for loudly telling lawyer jokes while standing in line outside the courthouse in Hempstead, New York, to the irritation of a nearby lawyer; charges against Lanzisera were dropped, but he was subpoenaed to testify in Kash's case. (The grand jury voted to dismiss the charge.)

Hardest-Working Criminals

Pittsburgh police announced in December that they'd arrested the person they believed to be responsible for the disappearance of as many as 400 parking meters over the previous year. They speculated that Wade Harris, 39, who has a long history of arrests related to the theft of scrap metal, dislodged the meters--sometimes entire rows of them at a time--by hitting them with a car or sledgehammer; lugged them (they weigh about 50 pounds) to some private place where he could spend an estimated 90 minutes per unit breaking off the head and fishing the $10 to $15 in change out of the vault; then discarded the heads in vacant lots and sold the poles for scrap.

Least Competent Criminals

Roy Boothe Jr., 18, was arrested after allegedly attempting to rob a convenience store near York, Pennsylvania, in January. Surveillance video showed he threatened the two female clerks, aged 18 and 24, with a tire iron, but almost immediately the women started punching and kicking him, and soon he was on the floor begging them to stop.

In January Daniel Salazar, 21, was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison for attempting to rob a Bank of America in Kansas City; he came to the attention of police when he called a station house the day after the unsuccessful robbery and tried to claim a $5,000 reward offered for information about the perpetrators.

Update

When News of the Weird last reported on America's most uninhibited gay basher, the Reverend Fred Phelps of Topeka, in December 2003, he had proposed erecting a statue to celebrate the murder of Matthew Shepard. In December 2004 his Westboro Baptist Church--which has condemned Sweden since a pastor there who delivered an antigay sermon was sentenced to jail for hate speech--issued a press release praising God for sending the Indian Ocean tsunami to strike down gay Swedish vacationers.

Readers' Choice

One night last summer in Durango, Colorado, Taylor Ostergaard and Lindsey Zellitti, then 17 and 18, decided to bake cookies and leave them anonymously on neighbors' doorsteps with heart-shaped notes saying "Have a great night." But 49-year-old Wanita Young said hearing strangers at her door at 10:20 PM and finding the mysterious batch of cookies caused her to suffer an anxiety attack, requiring treatment at an emergency room the next day. The girls' families offered to reimburse Young for medical expenses, but Young declined, saying their apologies were insufficiently sincere, and in January a court ordered Ostergaard and Zellitti to pay Young $930. (Listeners of a Denver radio station subsequently donated more than enough money to cover the fine.)

Thinking of Posterity

In January Felipe Rose, part Lakota Sioux and best known as "the Indian" from the Village People, donated his gold record for the group's 1978 hit "Y.M.C.A." to the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

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

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