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Across the Region: July 28


Jailer says he lied about affair with slain woman

An Iowa man says he falsely denied having an affair with a pregnant coworker days after she was killed but that he had nothing to do with her slaying.

Washington County jailer Jason Tinnes testified last week at the trial of Seth Techel, who’s charged with killing 23-year-old Lisa Techel in May 2012.

Techel’s attorneys called Tinnes to testify as they sought to raise doubts about the investigation that led to Techel being charged with murder.

Tinnes said that he began a sexual relationship with Lisa Techel in 2011, after they started working together at the jail. Tinnes says they agreed to end the affair one month before she was killed.

Tinnes said he denied having an affair when asked by an investigator because he didn’t want his wife to know.

Manchester zoo owners seek lawsuit dismissal

The owners of a Manchester zoo, sued for allegedly mistreating animals, have asked a judge to dismiss the case.

Tom and Pam Sellner, owners of Cricket Hollow Zoo were sued by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a California-based advocacy group, in June. Several area residents claim to have witnessed poor, unsanitary living conditions for zoo animals and have joined the lawsuit.

An attorney for the Sellners denies most of the accusations in a court document filed July 17. It says several issues cited have already been addressed.

Allegations focus on violations of the Endangered Species Act and point to the treatment of lemurs, tigers, lions, and gray wolves.

An attorney for the advocacy group says the organization wants the animals moved to a sanctuary.


Man convicted of incest wants new trial

A Ravenna man who was convicted of incest and sexually assaulting a child is seeking a new trial.

Buffalo County Deputy Public Defender Brandon Dugan raises questions about the evidence presented against the man in his motion for a new trial.

Media reports do not name the man to protect the identity of the girl who was younger than 12 at the time of the assault last September. The man was convicted earlier this month.

The girl testified that the man tried to perform oral sex on her while they were alone in a hotel room. She resisted and he stopped.

The man is scheduled to be sentenced in August. A hearing on his request for a new trial was held last week.

Man’s request for new trial denied

A Custer County man sentenced to life in prison last month for kidnapping and assaulting his ex-wife has been denied a new trial.

Custer County District Judge Karin Noakes denied a motion by Tyler Bain’s attorney, Stephen Potter of Gothenburg, for a new trial.

Potter had argued that at least one and possibly two jurors had engaged in misconduct — one by reading an article about Bain in a local newspaper during the trial and the other for using social media during the trial.

Potter also objected to a forensic pathologist’s testimony.

But Judge Noakes agreed with prosecutors that Potter failed to prove juror misconduct. She also said Potter’s unhappiness with the pathologist’s testimony is not grounds for a new trial.


State wants specifics on backlogged grain shipments

North Dakota’s congressional delegation is pressing Canadian Pacific Railway to provide specifics on its backlog of grain shipments.

The U.S. Surface Transportation Board told Canadian Pacific and BNSF Railway in June to submit plans to address backlogs in northern Plains states and begin filing weekly updates.

But the state’s congressional delegation says Canadian Pacific’s weekly report does not include a specific number of past-due rail cars or average lateness.

BNSF Railway reported 3,908 past due rail cars in North Dakota averaging 26 days late. That’s down about 14 percent from the previous week.

BNSF says North Dakota had the most past-due rail cars followed by Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota.

Reservation police officer sentenced to 15 months

A former officer on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation has been sentenced to more than a year in prison for roughing up suspects during two separate arrests.

A jury in April convicted Lindrith Tsoodle on two counts of using excessive force and one count of making false statements. He was acquitted of tampering with a witness.

Authorities say in one case Tsoodle twisted the neck of a handcuffed suspect, threw him to the ground and kneed him in the stomach. In the other case he allegedly tightened the handcuffs on a suspect, slammed him against the wall, used pepper spray and struck the man with his hands and a baton.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced Tsoodle to 15 months in prison and two years of supervised release.


Men sentenced in case involving ex-USD athletes

Two Florida men accused of participating in a scheme in which former University of South Dakota athletes and others used stolen identities to fraudulently collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax refunds were sentenced to federal prison last week.

U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier ordered Raunta Ellison to serve 5 years and 1 month in prison, while Dametrius Turner, a former cornerback for the Coyotes, was sentenced to 3 ½ years.

Prosecutors say Ellison, 25, and Turner, 23, were among 11 people who participated in a ring that stole people’s identities and filed bogus income tax returns showing about $1.1 million in refunds due, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Dakota. The Internal Revenue Service paid fraudulent refunds of about $500,000 before the scheme was uncovered.

Seven of the 11 people have ties to the University of South Dakota. Six, including the alleged ring leader, Alphonso “Rico” Valdez, played for the school’s football team. Another former student was part of the track and field team and student body president.

The ring was indicted in 2012. Four people, all from Tampa, Florida, have since pleaded guilty. Ellison, Turner and co-defendant Charlie Frank Adams, 23, who was sentenced in January, have been ordered to pay the IRS and ID theft victims nearly $422,000. Valdez’ former girlfriend, Melissa Dinataly, 23, was sentenced to two years in prison in June.

Seven co-defendants are expected to face trial before the end of the year.

Investigators searched a USD dorm room after Valdez used preloaded debit cards to withdraw $900 from an ATM. Authorities say they found evidence of fraud that started a more than 6-month investigation.

Inmates could see early release next year

The U.S. District Attorney for South Dakota says a federal ruling that will make tens of thousands of inmates serving time eligible for early release could allow hundreds of drug offenders in South Dakota to get out early.

Brendan Johnson estimated that between 300 and 400 inmates could see early release as soon as 2015, although the exact number of South Dakota drug offenders that could be affected by the vote is still undecided.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously last week to make sentencing guideline changes approved earlier this year retroactive to apply to many inmates who are currently in prison.

The commission said more than 46,000 inmates could benefit, with an average sentence reduction of 25 months. The change would cover defendants sentenced for all drug types, including cocaine and methamphetamine.

The inmates in South Dakota serving mandatory sentences would not have their terms reduced below the minimum, but those sentenced above or below the mandatory term would be able to apply for a reduction.

Johnson said he expects to work with judges and the federal public defender’s office to identify the cases and to find a way to apply the changes across a large number of cases.


Supreme Court reverses rape ruling

Evidence of a prior consensual sexual relationship between a Milwaukee man and a woman who accused him of rape was properly excluded from his trial, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled last week.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the state appeals court to rule on other issues Muhammad Sarfraz raised on appeal.

Sarfraz was found guilty of second degree sexual assault in 2011 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He argued on appeal that evidence he and his accuser had previously conducted a consensual sexual relationship should have been admitted at trial. The state court of appeals agreed, saying the full extent of their relationship would allow the jury to question the allegations against him.

The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, saying the evidence was properly excluded under the state’s rape shield law. That law generally prohibits introducing any evidence concerning the victim’s prior sexual history or reputation.

Justice Michael Gableman said Sarfraz failed to show that the value of the evidence of the alleged prior consensual relationship outweighed its inflammatory and prejudicial nature.

The state charged Sarfraz with second degree sexual assault, while he alleged the sexual contact was consensual.

Court: Whistleblower law doesn’t protect interns

Wisconsin’s law protecting health care workers who act as whistleblowers doesn’t apply to unpaid interns, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said.

The court said Asma Masri, a doctoral student dismissed from the Medical College of Wisconsin after making an ethics complaint, did not qualify as an employee because she was not paid and did not receive any benefits even though she worked 40 hours a week and had complete access to patient records.

Justice David Prosser referred to the state’s Labor and Industry Review Commission’s earlier decision in Masri’s case.

The commission’s “interpretation is reasonable, and there is no more reasonable interpretation,” Prosser wrote in the Supreme Court’s opinion. “Because Masri received no compensation or tangible benefits, she was not an employee of MCW and was therefore not entitled to anti-retaliation protection” under the law.

Masri was a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2008, when she began a psychology internship at the Medical College of Wisconsin, which placed her in the transplant surgery unit at Froedtert Hospital. Masri said her internship abruptly ended after she told a college administrator that she had been ordered to create a “borderline personality” diagnosis to discredit a patient who might file a malpractice lawsuit.

Across the Region is compiled from Associated Press wire, staff reports and news releases.

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