Lead Stories

Twenty years ago Coral Eugene Watts was apprehended in Houston trying to drown a woman in her apartment and confessed to 13 murders; lacking physical evidence against him for the murders, the prosecutor negotiated a controversial plea bargain in which Watts was sentenced to 60 years without the possibility of parole for “aggravated burglary” (one involving attempted murder). Now 52, Watts has been amassing “good time” requiring early release, and because of a drafting error in his plea bargain, which neglected to specify a weapon appropriate to aggravated burglary, an appeals court has reversed the parole prohibition. Watts–who once claimed that he’d killed more than a hundred women–is now scheduled for release in 2006….And last month in Newport News, Virginia, a judge released accused murderer Corey Pernell McNeil because a clerk had forgotten to sign the victim’s death certificate; by the time the error was corrected, McNeil had disappeared.

Good News for Men

In May the Archives of Sexual Behavior published an article by New York University researchers stating that women who abstain from sex or whose partners wear condoms were more frequently depressed and speculating that hormones in semen may enter the bloodstream and make women peppier.

Compelling Explanations

Prosecutors in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, said in May that the lyrics of rap singer Karim Ali Howard might be used against him in his upcoming trial for cocaine trafficking. A sample: “I’m going to sell coke until you call me pope / Do dirt until the lord tries to stop me / It’s gonna take hundreds of bullets just to drop me.”…And in June, Russell Adam Pelletier was convicted of murder in Louisa, Virginia, despite his claim that his confession, captured by an undercover wire, was just freestyle verse.

Last month a federal judge refused to dismiss gun charges against 11 people alleged to be members of San Francisco’s Big Block street gang. In a court filing the men had argued that they have a constitutional right to carry firearms, pointing to a declaration last year by U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft that the Second Amendment applied not only to state militias but to individuals.

Latest Rights

Last month the city of New York agreed to pay a Sri Lankan-born schoolteacher $50,000 for the “hostile work environment” he endured because of his nationality. Administrators said they couldn’t stop students from harassing the teacher because they were emotionally troubled “special needs” students.

Claudia Huntey, who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, filed a federal lawsuit in Denver this past April after she was evicted from the Torrey Pines apartment complex. Huntey’s most frequent symptom is yelling “Fire!” at the top of her lungs; since her “involuntary vocalizations” are protected under federal disability law, she argued, her neighbors should just have to get used to them.

Last month the Afkhami family of Gaithersburg, Maryland, filed a civil-rights lawsuit against Carnival Cruise Lines, which had refused to let them travel from a Miami port with 160 live bees in bottles that two of their children use to treat their multiple sclerosis. The Afkhamis argue that the company discriminated against them because of their Iranian nationality.


In 1961 the Italian artist Piero Manzoni canned 90 tins of his own feces as art objects. Over the years 45 of the 30-gram tins have reportedly exploded, and the price of the remaining ones has fluctuated from $75,000 in 1993 to $28,000 in 1998. In June the Tate Gallery in London announced it had purchased tin No. 004 for about $38,000; at press time the price of 30 grams of gold was a little over $300.

Least Competent Criminals

In June two men were arrested in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania, while painting a stolen white car black in the middle of a shopping center parking lot on the town’s main street….And a month earlier in Martinsburg, West Virginia, police looking for a red Jeep Wrangler used in a bank robbery spotted the vehicle in front of a woman’s yard with a For Sale sign on it; according to police, the woman readily confessed to the crime.

In the Last Month

In Englewood, Ohio, a car full of suspected thieves crashed during a high-speed police chase; one occupant fled on foot but traveled only a short distance before his prosthetic leg fell off….In Rochester, New York, a man on trial for fleeing police in his van allegedly apologized when they caught him, explaining that he had just bought some crack and had wanted a chance to smoke it before he went to jail….In New York City three obese people sued McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and KFC for addicting them to unhealthful food….And in Clearwater, Florida, a 36-year-old woman sued Delta Airlines, claiming agents had publicly humiliated her after finding a “sex toy” vibrating in her checked baggage.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.