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Readers' choice, part 1: In December veterinarians at an aquarium in Fushun, China, called in Bao Xishun, a seven-foot-nine-inch Mongolian herder believed to be the world's tallest person, to reach into the stomachs of two dolphins and pull out shards of plastic they'd swallowed. The dolphins had become depressed and were refusing to eat; attempts to extract the plastic using medical instruments failed, but Bao's three-and-a-half-foot-long arm did the trick.

Readers' choice, part 2: In a well-publicized case, four men were charged with a variety of fraud- and sex-related offenses in Chino Valley, Arizona, in January. According to authorities, 43-year-old Robert Snow (a former sex offender) and 61-year-old Lonnie Stiffler had posed as the legal guardians of Neil Rodreick, whom they had met online and, believing him to be 12 years old, subsequently had sex with. Rodreick was actually 29 but apparently passed as a preteen via thorough shaving and makeup; the three of them also lived with 34-year-old Brian Nellis, formerly Rodreick's cellmate in the Oklahoma prison where both served time for sex offenses. Investigators said that with the other men's help, Rodreick attended the seventh grade in a series of charter schools in central Arizona for more than a year before officials became suspicious and called law enforcement. Reportedly Snow and Stiffler were shocked and angry when police told them Rodreick wasn't really 12.

Inexplicable

According to the Sacramento Bee, 40-year-old Sudan Provost walked into a downtown bank in December and allegedly announced, barely audibly, that he intended to rob it. Police said he then approached a teller and handed her his driver's license and a money order he wanted cashed. Asked if he had an account there, Provost reportedly said, "This is not a joke. I have a gun. I do this for a living." As if to demonstrate he opened his bag, which apparently contained no gun; then he asked the teller for a tissue. When she said she didn't have one, Provost said he'd be right back and walked across the street to a drugstore. By the time he returned, police had arrived.

Latest Religious Messages

According to a December article in the London Times, a recent report by the Church of England portrays its priests as increasingly worn down by "toxic" congregations dominated by manipulative and bullying parishioners. One of the report's authors told the Times that a major source of stress among clergy is trying to be nice to unpleasant people.

Fine Points of the Law

Officials in the German state of Brandenburg announced in October that a 59-year-old man who was sentenced to life for murder in 1972 had refused their repeated offers to release him from prison, and they had no way of making him go. According to a Reuters report, German prisoners aren't legally obligated to leave jail before completing their sentence.

In January 67-year-old Jack Cline died of complications from leukemia in Birmingham, Alabama. The week before, the state supreme court had ruled he couldn't proceed with his lawsuit against manufacturers of the chemical benzene, which has been linked to leukemia and which Cline said he was exposed to at work for decades. Under Alabama law, according to the court, such a suit must be filed within two years of the last exposure to the toxic substance, but can't be filed until the plaintiff actually develops symptoms. (In other states the statute of limitations doesn't start running until the disease appears.) Since Cline wasn't diagnosed until more than two years after his last contact with benzene, there was never a time when he would have been able to sue.

Michigan's court of appeals ruled in November that under an obscure state law any "sexual penetration," consensual or not, occurring in conjunction with the commission of a felony constitutes first-degree criminal sexual conduct, the most serious sex crime on the books. As the judges pointed out, adultery is still technically a felony in Michigan, so anyone found to have consummated an adulterous relationship could theoretically be sentenced to life in prison.

In November Jeffrey Leonard, an inmate on Kentucky's death row, lost a federal appeal in which he argued he'd received inadequate counsel at his 1983 murder trial. The appeal pointed out that not only had court-appointed lawyer Ferdinand Radolovich failed to uncover details in Leonard's background that might have led a jury to reject the death penalty, he'd failed to uncover Leonard's name: the apparently brain-damaged Leonard told Radolovich his name was James Slaughter (which he couldn't spell) and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to die under that name without Radolovich (or anyone else) noticing the error. (Radolovich later testified that he had experience in capital cases prior to Leonard's trial when actually it was his first.) But in a 7-7 split, the U.S. appeals court couldn't conclude that Leonard might have fared better with a competent defense.

The Glory of Produce

Reuters reported in November on plans by the northern Bosnian town of Bijeljina to build a giant monument to the region's most important crop: the cabbage. "We very much appreciate this vegetable," said a tourism official. And in December 24-year-old Richard Townsend of Exeter, England, ate 36 brussels sprouts in one minute, seven short of the world record; he said he'd eaten sprouts every day for six months in preparation for the attempt but just "lost it" at the end.

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

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