The Defense Rests 9.7

If you're being tried for murder, it's generally a good idea for your lawyer to be awake. That seemingly uncontroversial legal principle is being put to the test in the case of Calvin Burdine, a gay man sentenced to death in Texas for the 1983 murder of his ex after a trial in which his court-appointed lawyer, the late Joe Cannon, repeatedly fell asleep for "substantial" periods of time, according to state judges.

A federal appeals court is currently reviewing the case--after a panel of three federal


judges ruled last October that the lawyer's naps hadn't interfered with Burdine's right to a fair trial. The Texas prosecutor maintains that Cannon's sleeping didn't make the verdict "unreliable" because any errors the lawyer made weren't "systemic." Burdine's lawyers note that it's hard to get a decent defense from a lawyer who is "no more sentient than a potted plant."

One of the key issues in the case, the gay and lesbian news service PlanetOut notes, is whether Cannon's unconsciousness allowed the prosecutors to appeal to jurors' homophobia: "Among the prosecutor's statements Cannon did not object to [because he was asleep] was an inflammatory argument in the sentencing hearing that Burdine should be executed because life imprisonment was not such a bad thing for a homosexual."

Burdine, who says his "confession" was the result of police intimidation, came close to being executed in 1987 before getting a last-minute reprieve.


Flagging Enthusiasm 7.2

Flag-waving patriotism: It's not just a good idea--it's the law! James McGreevey, the Democratic mayor of Woodbridge, New Jersey, and a likely candidate for governor, apparently thought the best way to illustrate our country's love of liberty was to force new businesses to fly the American flag, the Washington Times reports. But slightly cooler heads prevailed, after a protest from the ACLU, and the Woodbridge Town Council ultimately approved an amended version of McGreevey's resolution, one that merely "encourages" flag-flying.


Marching On 8.1

Faced with shortages of food and fuel, but something of a surplus of snow and cold weather, the North Korean government is trying to convince the masses that marching in the snow is "very much in vogue in streets and villages," Reuters reports.

"March to the revolutionary battlefields is ... an important item of winter sports," the Korean Central News Agency recently declared. "Particularly the march through the snowy road is regarded as a good opportunity to cultivate the bravery and strong will among students."

Are the Olympics next? Snow marching may not be much of a sport, but it still makes more sense than synchronized swimming.


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