Nation digest 2/14/02

Thursday, February 14, 2002

Congressman denies coercing bribes

CLEVELAND -- Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. told jurors at his bribery trial Wednesday that he never coerced bribes or favors and claimed the government was out to get him, partly for his legislative actions involving the Internal Revenue Service.

In the government's opening statement, prosecutor Craig Morford said the evidence will show Traficant "used his position as a congressman to perform and promise to perform official acts and in exchange he received free things."

Morford said that as "the single most powerful government official" in Youngstown, Traficant intervened with government agencies on behalf of local businessmen, who then provided him with a variety of favors.

Among the gifts Traficant is accused of taking are thousands of dollars of construction work at his farm and thousands of dollars in cash.

Man in neglect case had another infant who died

SAN FRANCISCO -- A man charged with murder in the apparent starvation death of his 19-month-old son had an infant daughter who died mysteriously 12 years ago.

The earlier death raised suspicion because the body of the baby, less than 3 months old, was kept at home for three days. However, the cause of death could not be determined and no criminal charges were filed against Winnfred Wright or the girl's mother, who later left Wright.

Wright, 45, and Carol Bremner, 44, were part of a living arrangement that also included Deirdre Wilson, 37, Kali Polk-Matthews, 20, and Mary Campbell, 37, whom authorities said was the mother of the boy who died.

Wright, Bremner, Campbell and Wilson each face one count of second-degree murder and multiple counts of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment. Polk-Matthews, who has no known children of her own, faces one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of child endangerment.

Man accused of killing family found hanged

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A Ukrainian immigrant accused in the bloody slayings of six family members was found hanged in his jail cell early Wednesday, the sheriff's department said. His attorney called the death suspicious, and officials said they were investigating.

Nikolay Soltys had been undergoing mental evaluations after allegedly using a knife to kill his pregnant wife, 3-year-old son and four other relatives in August.

"I'm baffled how this could have happened, given that he was in isolation" with surveillance cameras trained on his cell, said Soltys' attorney, Tommy Clinkenbeard.

The cameras didn't record, Clinkenbeard said, so someone would have had to been watching the monitor to see his death. He said Soltys used a rope made of cloth, possibly from his bed sheet or part of the cast he was wearing, and a plastic bag.

"It's very suspicious," Clinkenbeard said. "There's something wrong here."

Following a 20-minute meeting with Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas and jail officials, Clinkenbeard said that Soltys' body would be taken to a neighboring county for an autopsy and the cell was being treated as a crime scene. Blanas' department runs the jail.

License renewal waits should be 30 minutes

ATLANTA -- Gov. Roy Barnes says Georgia residents should be able to renew their drivers' licenses in 30 minutes or less, or get them for free.

The governor is giving the Department of Motor Vehicle Safety until January to speed up the renewal system, in which some people have had to stand in line for three or four hours, and sometimes longer.

"I've said since I took office that our government should work like a business," the governor said Tuesday. "Well, it's time we started treating our customers right."

Starting next year, anyone who has to wait more than 30 minutes doesn't have to pay the $15 fee.

Court rules Farrakhan can keep women out

BOSTON -- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan had no legal obligation to admit women into a leased theater for one of his speeches, the state's biggest court ruled Wednesday.

MLarceline Donaldson and her husband, Robert Bennett, sued Farrakhan, a local mosque and others after Donaldson was denied admittance to a Farrakhan speeche in 1994 because she was a woman.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state's public accommodation laws did not compel Farrakhan to address women in a men's mosque meeting.

-- From wire reports

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