News of the Weird 

Killing With Kindness

A Texas jury decided in 1991 that Steven Kenneth Staley, now 43, should be put to death for killing a restaurant manager, but three days before his February 2006 date with destiny, psychologists testified that he is mentally ill, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a mentally ill person cannot be executed. The solution, declared state judge Wayne Salvant in April, is for the state to inject Staley with enough psychotropic medicine to make him sufficiently sane to understand why he is going to die, at which point he can be killed. (In similar cases, drugs improved Charles Singleton enough for his 2004 execution in Arkansas, but have failed since 1999 to restore Texan Emanuel Kemp’s competency.)

Government in Action

Questionable Judgments: (1) New York state officials proposed earlier this year to evaluate the state’s parole officers in part by asking parolees such questions as whether they thought their officer sufficiently “cared” about their progress (but after criticism, canceled the project). (2) The board of zoning appeals in Anderson Township, Ohio, turned down a couple’s request to build a cedar fence around their yard even though the proposal was supported by neighbors and another municipal agency. Angry, according to an April Cincinnati Enquirer report, the couple instead set up 15 donated toilets as flower pots in the fenceless yard, and the zoning board apparently can’t stop them.

The newly installed municipal sewer system in the Florida Keys town of Islamorada was scheduled to go on line in May, but the real test will come shortly after that if the town cannot hook up a threshold number of residents to allow the system full, efficient functioning. The fallback plan, according to the town government, will require it to buy enough out-of-town sewage to boost the weak flow that would be running through the system.

Are We Safe? (1) To free up soldiers for war-zone duty, the Army hires contractors to man the gates at 57 domestic installations, including Fort Bragg and West Point, but in April, the Government Accountability Office announced that, despite three warnings, some of the contractors continue to hire an alarming number of convicted felons as security guards. (2) Nashville’s The Tennessean newspaper revealed in April that a man still serving time for hiring a hit man to kill his wife was actually put in charge of the purchasing office of the state’s emergency management agency. Inmate Daniel Erickson was participating in a rehabilitation program intended to help prisoners find work when they get out and apparently was so good at his job that agency officials promoted him.

Last year, New York Gov. George Pataki, criticizing the legislature’s spending priorities, deplored wasting money on trivial state projects like “cheese museums and pro wrestling halls of fame.” In 2006, however, another $5,000 of state funds went to the Cuba (N.Y.) Cheese Museum, from a fund nominally controlled by Pataki. The Cuba Cheese Museum is not to be confused with the New York State Museum of Cheese in Rome, N.Y.

Great Art!

In April, sculptor Daniel Edwards, creating a “Monument to Pro-Life,” ran a 10-day show at a gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y., consisting of his life-sized rendition of the singer Britney Spears, nude, on her knees and elbows on a bearskin rug, at the moment of birth of her first child, Sean Preston. Edwards did not speak with Spears ahead of time but said he was drawn to her high profile and that he “couldn’t come up with anybody” better to make his anti-abortion statement.

Artist Ira Sherman’s high-tech “Impenetrable Devices,” exhibited earlier this year at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, are sleek, wearable gadgets whose common purpose is to thwart rape. Sherman said his “genital armor” and “castration mechanisms” were borne from listening to rape victims recommend instruments to provide bodily security. “The Injector” shoots an identifying dye, and sedatives, at the rapist; “The Bear Trap Corset” and the “Intimate Electric Fence” are self-explanatory; and the complex Cremasteric Reflex Corset employs steel spikes delivered by a pressure-sensitive air valve. Said Sherman, “All my (devices are) plausible.”

Prosecutors in Dresden, Germany, charged Petra Kujau, 47, with fraud recently for selling at least 500 fake paintings of such artists as Monet, Picasso and Van Gogh. However, the paintings were always clearly labeled as fakes, according to an April Times of London dispatch, and their sale was a crime only because Petra had claimed they had been painted by Konrad Kujau (her great uncle), who had a worldwide reputation as a master faker. Thus, Petra is charged with duping collectors into thinking that they were buying original Konrad Kujau classic fakes.

The Continuing Campaign to Make Everything Perfect

(1) In April, the organization Gymnastics Australia ordered cheerleader teams to supply less-revealing uniforms (e.g., no bare midriffs), based not on alleged “indecency” but on its fear that the exhibition of too-svelte cheerleaders’ bodies would make overweight girls feel bad and lead to eating disorders. (2) Greater Manchester (England) police filed a criminal charge against a 10-year-old boy who, in a schoolyard spat, called a classmate a “Paki” and “bin Laden” and, allegedly, the “n” word. Judge Jonathan Finestein of Salyer youth court urged prosecutors in April to deal with the matter in some other way (and in fact, the defendant told the court that the two boys are now friends).

Least Competent People

In Red Deer, Alberta, in April, Jesse Maggrah, 20, listening through earphones to heavy-metal music while walking on Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, was hit from behind by a train moving at about 30 mph, but survived. In his hospital bed (broken ribs, punctured lung, other injuries), Maggrah said he remembers the immediate aftermath: “I thought, ‘Holy crap, dude, you just got hit by a train.’” “Maybe the metal gods above were smiling on me, and they didn’t want one of their true warriors to die on them.”

Least Competent Pervert: Benjamin Thornton, 20, was charged with impersonating a police officer and attempted kidnapping in Pearland, Texas, in April, after he allegedly confessed that he had tried ruses to molest adolescent girls more than 100 times, “all unsuccessful(ly).” In the latest case, he tried to convince a 9-year-old girl that the toy she had could not legally be held by anyone waiting for a school bus, but the girl was too smart for him.


The annual for-real crucifixion rituals in San Pedro Cutud, Philippines, took place again this Easter, with at least nine martyrs allowing themselves to be nailed to crosses. Among those scheduled was Scottish media personality (and lapsed Catholic) Dominick Diamond, who publicly vowed in February to endure the 4-inch nails this year as a way of respiritualizing himself. However, when his time came, Diamond knelt before the cross, prayed, contemplated the blood and pain of those before him, started crying and was taken away in an ambulance, as the unforgiving crowd jeered.


Budhia Singh, 4, of Bhubaneswar, India, has been a runner for two years, and on May 2 (under the watchful eye of his coach) ran 40 miles in about seven hours (but doctors quoted in a Reuters dispatch severely criticized the coach for setting Singh up for cartilage damage and other ailments). And Terry Durham of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has been preaching since he was 4, and now at age 8, in his suit and alligator shoes, holds forth at the True Gospel Deliverance Ministry church and elsewhere in the state. Durham, described in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel profile, kicks his leg in the air and wails, “The Lord makes you feel good. He says, ‘Who am I?’ I am Doctor Feelgood.’ Yeah!”


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Chuck Shepherd

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