News of the Weird

by Chuck Shepherd

Greatmoments in capital punishment: Prosecutors in Portland, Ore. took thedeath penalty off the table for Tremayne Durham in July, accepting aminimum-30-year prison term for an “aggravated murder” over a businessdeal. Durham agreed to plead guilty when prosecutors relented to hisadditional demand of two pig-out meals (featuring KFC, Popeyes andHaagen Dazs right away, and pizza and lasagna on the day the judgeaccepts the plea). Prosecutors said they hated appearing to cater tothe whims of a murderer, but eyeing the expense of a long trial andlengthy appeals, as well as the turmoil for the victim’s family, theyagreed. In August, the judge accepted the deal.

Can’t possibly be true

—Though it has been on national cable TV since mid-July, ratings havenot been spectacu lar for the G4 channel’s show, “Hurl!” leaving manyAmericans unaware of precisely how far standards of taste have fallen.“Hurl!” contestants are forced to gorge themselves, then are purposely,rapidly, twirled and shaken on carnival-type rides, with the lastplayer to retain his stomach contents declared the winner. Wrote aWashington Post reviewer, it’s “for people who found ‘Fear Factor’ muchtoo nuanced.” — Least competent multitaskers: A Dallasentrepreneur recently created a programmable device for those busy,busy parents who actually need to be reminded that they brought theirtots with them in the car (lest their child become one of the severalhot-car deaths a year in America). Provided that they’re not too busyto set the system up, an alarm alerts them if they exit the car withoutthe baby. Said one Texas woman interviewed by NBC News, “As a mom, youcan get really distracted.”


—A rule for federal lawsuits (Rule 8a) requires the initial pleadingthat commences the case to be “short and plain,” and another (9b)requires it to be to the point, with several pages usually plenty togive the other party notice of what he’s being sued for. In June,federal judge Ronald Leighton summarily tossed out the initial pleadingof Washington state attorney Dean Browning Webb, whose client is suingGMAC Mortgage, because Webb had submitted 465 pages, with meticulousdetail, including 37 pages quoting e-mails, and 341 pages assertingclaims that freely repeated each other on points they had in common. —Believers: (1) Rocky Twyman of Washington, DC started Pray at the Pump,a brief, scat tered national campaign in June to urge prayer to bringdown gas prices. A colleague in St. Louis claimed his prayer sessionscaused the price drop in July, pointing to his use of the civil rightsanthem “We Shall Overcome” (and his new verse, “We’ll have lower gasprices”). (2) In July, Salinas, Calif., Mayor Dennis Donohue,frustrated at this year’s dramatic surge in gang violence, kicked off acampaign to urge a citywide fast, which he said was a proven techniquein achieving social justice.

Unclear on the concept

—In a July ceremony, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan honored SWATofficers for their bravery and professionalism during a Decembermiddle-of-the-night raid of a house that supposedly contained a gang’sguns. However, it was the wrong house, and the bewildered, frightenedresident started shooting back. Said Dolan, “The easy decision wouldhave been to retreat [but the] team did not take the easy way out.” Thehouse got riddled with bullets, but no one was hit, and the chief laterapologized but still felt that it was “a perfect example of a situationthat could have gone horribly wrong, but did not because of the[team’s] profes sionalism.” — Unrealistic expectations: (1)Victor Rodriguez, 21, about to be arrested on a domestic assault chargein Bridgeport, Conn. in June, turned to his 9-foot-long pet python and,as police approached, shouted to the snake, “Get them!” (It remainedmotionless.) (2) In July, Josef Fritzl, the man who imprisoned hisdaughter and her children for 24 years in a dungeon in their home inAmstetten, Austria, told his own jail’s officials that he needs dailyexercise outside because he hates being cooped up in his cell.

Bright ideas

Whilemost major opera houses provide sign-language interpreters at the sideof the stage, producer Marita Barber recently staged the opera The Huntof King Charles in a version in which all performers sign as they sing,with only a two-piece orchestra in the background, for pa trons withhearing. At Barber’s venue, the Theatre Totti on a Finnish island,actual baritones and sopranos were sought for their respective roles,even though they would all sign their lyrics, because, said Barber,“[W]e need facial expressions and gestures to get the feeling and theatmosphere across” to the deaf audience, for example, when lyrics callfor elongating a word to fit the music.

Oh yeah, tough guys!

(1)Lamont Cooke was arrested by a SWAT team in Vernon, Conn. in July afterspending the last year on the run from Philadelphia and Marylandauthorities, who wanted him for charges of kidnapping and murder.According to the arresting US marshal, Cooke surrendered quietly,except that he wet his pants. (2) A police task force in Orem, Utaharrested a 21-year-old gang member in June, catching him riding atricycle that he had just stolen from a little girl.

People with issues

Montreal,Quebec psychiatrists Joel and Ian Gold believe they have identifiedfive patients between them who are deluded to the point where they arecertain they are starring in real ity TV shows or movies about theirlives. In the well-established Capgras delusion, a patient believesthat his immediate family has been replaced by look-alike actors, butthe Golds’ five patients believe that their every movement is beingbroadcast around the world (and have named the disorder the “TrumanShow delusion” after the 1998 movie starring Jim Carrey), according toa July National Post story.

Least competent criminals

Latestnegative-cash-flow robbery: The man (dressed as a woman) got away afterthe at tempt at Joe’s Cafe in Metairie, La. in July, but he lost moneyin the deal. As a ruse to get a clerk to open the cash register, hehanded over a $5 bill to pay for two doughnuts and, with the registerthen open for change, pulled a gun and demanded the contents. The clerkimme diately became hysterical, screaming, and the robber, frightened,fled the restaurant without his $5 or his doughnuts.


StripperSusan Sykes, 47, known as “Busty Heart,” was rejected in July as acontestant for the NBC show “America’s Got Talent,” as the judges wereunappreciative of her ability to crush empty beer cans with herenormous breasts. As News of the Weird reported, Sykes was sued in 1997by an Illinois strip-club patron who claimed a serious neck injuryafter Sykes, in a little audience-participation, playfully trapped hishead between her breasts while she danced. Eventually, the lawsuit was dropped.

Armed and clumsy (all-new!)

Revengeof the critters: A 44-year-old woman accidentally shot herself in theknee while pursuing a mouse inside her travel trailer (Potter Valley,Calif.; July). And a 27-year-old man accidentally shot himself in thehead while chasing a skunk (Elwood, Utah; May). And a 45 year-old womanaccidentally shot herself in the foot while stalking a woodchuck in hergarden (Ferryville, Wis.’ June). And a 57-year-old man accidentallyshot himself in the hand while aiming at bees (Williamsburg, Pa.;April). And a retired police officer accidentally shot himself in thechest while aiming at a snapping turtle behind his house (Bensalem,Pa.; August).

Copyrght 2008 Chuck Shepherd Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate