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In January Nick Griffin, the owner of two video stores in England, was fined about $9,900 for violating the Trade Descriptions Act by marketing ordinary feature films (such as the 1976 Jack Palance comedy Secrets of a Sensuous Nurse) as hard-core sex videos. Said Griffin, "I am amazed people have the audacity to complain about things like that."

Former pro football player Rae Carruth, charged last January with ordering his pregnant girlfriend's murder, managed to have his defense financed by the state of North Carolina after convincing Judge Charles Lamm that he was "indigent," according to court documents published last month by the Charlotte Observer. Carruth earned about $38,000 a week during the 1999 season, and when a prosecutor suggested Carruth's motive might have been to avoid child-support payments, the player countered that he made enough money (with a net worth of $360,000) to easily support a child. (Carruth was ultimately convicted of conspiracy, but not of murder.)

Latest British Research

British Antarctic Survey personnel brought two Lynx helicopters to the Falkland Islands in November specifically to study whether or not penguins topple over when following the path of an aircraft overhead. A team of researchers from the At-Bristol center found that 20 of 25 Parliament members surveyed were more physically aroused by the sight of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher than by the sight of British celebrity Denise Van Outen in a skimpy dress. And commenting in November on a German study of gambling as an addiction, British psychologist Mark Griffiths and British gardening expert Alan Titchmarsh agreed that some of the findings could apply to gardening as well. Said Titchmarsh, "Once you've discovered the thrill of making things grow, you can't stop."

I Don't Think So

Former police officer Edward Ludaescher and a partner were arrested in November after allegedly attempting to rob a bank in Oxnard, California, but Ludaescher said it was all a misunderstanding and that he was really only studying "what it was like to commit a robbery" in preparation for a police training video he and the other man were planning to make. (At a December hearing, prosecutors argued that the two men badly needed money, having recently defaulted on a $200,000 loan they took out to develop a pepper spray gun.)

On trial for drunk driving in Llano, Texas, in October, John Bradley Park claimed that he had been perfectly sober the night he was pulled over, but that he began drinking while sitting in the driver's seat after being stopped and was drunk by the time he reached the blood-alcohol test facility. (He was convicted.)

Twenty-six years after Mel Lastman (now mayor of Toronto) settled privately with a former longtime girlfriend by whom he had had two sons, the sons (now age 41 and 38) filed a lawsuit against him complaining of low self-esteem, anxiety, humiliation, and delay in their personal development and asking for $4 million more. Said the 19-year-old son of one of the plaintiffs, the lawsuit is "not about the money."

According to his campaign manager, U.S. Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida did not retain illegal campaign contributions but issued immediate refunds as legally required, despite appearances to the contrary. Jose A. Riesco told the Miami Daily Business Review in December that all 45 refund checks (totaling nearly $30,000) were mailed out in February 2000, and that the reason none of the 45 recipients cashed them over the next eight months was that somehow they were all lost in the mail, "poorly addressed, things like that," thus allowing Diaz-Balart full use of the money during his recent campaign. Riesco denied any wrongdoing.

Not My Fault

In Edwardsville, Illinois, 18-year-old Kwayera "Q" Jackson was sentenced in November to 40 years in prison for the death of his five-month-old son, who was killed by a blow to the intestines. Jackson, who had been a standout high school football player, said he might have gently thumped his son's stomach, but only because he was trying to build up the boy's abs so he would be a better athlete when he grew up.

In November a jury in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, awarded 36-year-old Harvard undergrad Patricia Ryan $363,000 for an injury she suffered in 1994, when she was a stripper at the Cabaret nightclub. Ryan, whose act included fire breathing, suffered second-degree burns after some 151-proof stage booze dribbled onto her chest and caught on fire. The Cabaret's attorney argued that the club hadn't caused the accident, but Ryan testified that the club's employees declined to help her during the emergency.

People Different From Us

In January police in Gainesville, Florida, charged James Anthony Harmon, 39, with fraud after finding his house filled from floor to ceiling with as much as $200,000 worth of merchandise from the Home Shopping Network, most of it still in unopened cartons. Said Harmon, who made the purchases using several different credit cards under different names, "I just shop a lot."

Recurring Themes

Shooting yourself in the head with a nail gun isn't necessarily fatal, as readers of News of the Weird know. Nevertheless, in January a 25-year-

old construction worker in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, apparently tried to kill himself with one, unable to bear the pain after accidentally severing his hand with a miter saw. At press time, he was hospitalized in stable condition after surgery to reattach the hand--and to remove the 12 nails

in his skull.

Least Competent Criminals

In November 62-year-old Auburn Mason was sentenced to four years in prison for a 1999 British Airways hijacking. He had held scissors to a flight attendant's neck and threatened to blow up the plane, yelling, "Take me to Gatwick!" apparently not realizing that the flight was 15 minutes away from its scheduled destination--Gatwick airport. Mason was disarmed after observers realized the "bomb" in his pocket was actually a dictation machine.

In the Last Month

A 33-year-old Milwaukee mother was charged with felonious failure to prevent child sex abuse after giving her 13-year-old son condoms to use with his 15-year-old girlfriend (the "abuser"). Vietnam vet and Mexico, Missouri, resident Harry Hunt got his waist-length hair cut, ending his eight-year boycott of the clippers in protest of draft-dodging Bill Clinton's presidency. A 34-year-old man in York, Maine, was charged with forcing a woman to have sex by wielding a live hand grenade. A circus archer in Paris missed the apple on his assistant's head for the first time in 14 years, sending her to the hospital with a catastrophic wound below the eye.

Send your weird news to Chuck Shepherd, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611 or to weird@compuserve.com.

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

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