News of the Weird March 26 2008

Garbage Patch, hibernating iguanas and more

Lead Story: In February, a Mississippi judge released two convicted rapists of children, who had each been in prison for more than 12 years, based on DNA. The men had been convicted primarily by the “bite mark” analysis of since-discredited dentist Dr. Michael West, who used iridescent lights and yellow goggles to demonstrate that scratches on the victims were bites by the two men. Subsequent independent analysis identified the scratches as scratches, perhaps even made by West himself, according to a director of the Innocence Project. West is a favorite colleague of medical examiner Steven Hayne, who seems always to find evidence of guilt of anyone charged by District Attorney Forrest Allgood, according to a Reason magazine investigation. West’s bite “technology,” in particular, has been widely ridiculed by forensic professionals.

The Continuing Crisis: A 25-year-old woman was arrested for assault in Bremerton, Wash., in December after fighting with her boyfriend in the shower over whether the man’s dog could join them. The woman objected and said the arrangement would be a deal-breaker for their relationship, to which the boyfriend replied that he hoped his next girlfriend would appreciate the dog more. At that, according to police, she punched him several times in the face, and in their struggle, he dislocated his shoulder.

Female Muslim medical students at several hospitals in Britain are objecting to a campaign that demands more rigorous hand-washing (to stop the spread of dangerous bacteria), complaining that being forced to bare their forearms above the wrist is immodesty prohibited by their religion. Doctors cited in a February Daily Telegraph story said washing up to the elbow is crucial for safety. Some women at Birmingham University said they would change careers rather than comply.

Yikes! In early January, when a national deep freeze extended even to the Florida Keys, iguanas fell into their natural hibernationlike torpor, and some compassionate Floridians, unaccustomed to seeing iguanas that appeared nearly dead, took them indoors to warm them up, which is a mistake. The owner of the veterinary clinic in Marathon said one “sweet lady” called him about the 5-footer she had dragged inside. “When it woke up,” the vet said, “she couldn’t understand why it seemed to be coming after her.” “When they warm up, they go back to being a wild animal.”

Since at least the early 1990s, trillions of discarded plastic items have converged, held together by swirling currents, to form the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch that now covers an area twice the size of the United States and weighs about 100 million tons. “Every little piece of plastic manufactured in the past 50 years that made it into the ocean is still out there,” one researcher quoted in a February dispatch in London’s the Independent said. An oceanographer predicted that the Patch would double in size in just the next decade. A 2006 United Nations office estimated that every square mile of ocean contains, on average, 46,000 pieces of floating plastic.

CSI: Cats: 1) Luis Jimenez, 24, was arrested in Austin, Texas, in January and charged with having child pornography that police say he left behind when he moved. The subsequent tenant has a cat, which, in the process of exploring the new digs, got caught in a gap between a pantry and a ceiling where the DVDs had been hidden. 2) Police testifying in the murder trial of David Henton, 72, in Swansea, Wales, in January said they made recordings (in his home, with hidden microphones) of Henton confessing to killing his longtime domestic partner. Since Henton lives alone, the wordy confessions were apparently to his cats, to whom he spoke frequently about a range of matters.

Least Competent Criminals: A 16-year-old boy was arrested in Toronto in February after he emerged from a CIBC bank with about $150,000 (Canadian) stuffed in a sack. Despite numerous Hollywood movies emphasizing the need for speed in a bank robbery, the kid had dawdled inside for more than 45 minutes after the silent alarm had been pressed, collecting cash not only from the vault and tellers, but from customers, and by the time he walked out, the bank was surrounded by cops.

Update: In February, televangelist Jim Bakker (who lost his Praise the Lord ministry in the 1980s in fraud convictions that led to a five-year prison stint) began broadcasting from Morningside, his new development in Missouri that bears a strong resemblance to PTL’s Heritage USA project. According to a February report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “hundreds” of Heritage contributors ponied up this time, too, and despite the fact that each lost 99 percent of the value of his or her $1,000 investments, some even signed over their $6.54 restitution checks (following the fraud settlement) to Bakker’s new venture. The newspaper, observing Bakker’s debut from the new studio, noted that the first appeal for donations did not come until 41 minutes into the show.

Undignified Deaths: In a spectacular one-car wipe-out along an airstrip near Ocala, Fla., on Jan. 26, five young men were killed when their supercharged BMW M5 left the road at at least 120 mph, sailed 200 feet and smashed into a tree. In the days after, visitors to an Internet forum of M5 drivers recalled a question posed on a message board on Jan. 25 from an 18-year-old seeking advice about handling the car when shifting gears at superfast speeds. He signed on only as “Josh,” which is the first name of the 18-year-old driver killed on the airstrip.