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A wildlife agency that lost key court rulings over its denial of petitions to protect Yellowstone National Park bison will undertake a comprehensive study over whether the animals should be covered under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday.

The decision follows a federal court ruling in January that ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to review its 2019 denial of petitions seeking the extra protections. U.S. District Court Judge Randolf Moss of Washington, D.C., said the agency did not give a reason for its decision to rely on some scientific studies while rejecting others.

The January ruling was the second time a federal judge said the agency wrongly denied petitions seeking to have Yellowstone bison listed as threatened or endangered.

Under findings that are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the petitions — first filed in 2014 — present substantial, credible information that the sought-after protections may be needed based on reductions of the animal’s range, the lack of tolerance to bison outside the park, and loss of habitat and genetic diversity.

Bison in and around Yellowstone National Park are managed under a federal-state agreement to maintain wild bison while preventing the spread of brucellosis — a bacterial infection that can cause animals to abort their young — to cattle in Montana. The Interagency Bison Management Plan calls for capturing bison, testing them for brucellosis and sending some to slaughter when they leave the park. Bison can also be hunted outside the park.


A federal judge has sentenced a Wapato man to nearly five years in prison for a 2019 driving under the influence crash that killed four citizens of the Yakama Nation.

Leland James Finley, 28, had pleaded guilty to four counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault resulting in serious bodily injury in connection with the May 2019 crash on the Yakama Nation Reservation.

U.S. District Court Judge Sal Mendoza sentenced Finley on May 31 in Richland, the Yakama Herald-Republic reports.

Authorities said Finley was driving an SUV with five passengers when he drove in front of a semitrailer at an intersection on U.S. Highway 97 just south of Toppenish. Four of the six people in the SUV were killed. Finley and another passenger were injured.

The Yakima County Coroner’s Office identified the victims as 41-year-old Frances Northover, of Bellingham; 61-year-old Susan Brown, of Yakima; 21-year-old Matt Brown-Washington, of Wapato; and 39-year-old Michelle Untuch, of Toppenish.


West Virginia’s Supreme Court has overturned a man’s 2017 murder conviction, citing errors by a trial judge.

In an opinion released Thursday, the court ordered a new trial for Oscar Combs Sr., who was convicted in the 2013 death of Teresa Lynn Ford of the Mercer County community of Matoaka.

The court said in an opinion written by Chief Justice John Hutchison that Combs did not receive a fair trial because now-retired Wyoming County Circuit Judge Warren McGraw gave improper instructions to the jury and allowed evidence to be submitted at trial from Combs’ murder trial in a separate, earlier case.

According to circuit court records, Ford had told a friend that she was going to meet Combs to sell him her van. Combs was seen driving Ford’s van in the days after her disappearance. He later sold the vehicle to a used car dealer.

Ford’s remains were found near Combs’ home in Wyoming County. Combs was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole.


A federal appeals court has upheld part of a 2020 Connecticut police accountability law that allows public disclosure of state trooper personnel files and internal investigations.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Thursday rejected a challenge by the Connecticut State Police Union, which argued the law violates the 2018-2022 troopers’ contract by stripping away its exemptions from state freedom of information laws.

The union said Friday that it is considering asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case.

The contract section in question says troopers’ personnel files and documents in internal investigations that end with no finding of wrongdoing are not subject to disclosure.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld a ruling by a judge in a lower court who rejected the union’s request to bar the law section from taking effect during its court challenge. Senior U.S. District Judge Charles Haight Jr. in New Haven also said the union’s case was not likely to succeed because the law serves a legitimate public purpose in increasing law enforcement accountability and transparency.

Andrew Matthews, executive director of the state police union, said troopers oppose the law because it allows records involving unfounded allegations to become public, possibly tarnishing a trooper’s reputation despite no findings of wrongdoing.

If the union asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its appeal and justices reject the request, the case would return to the lower court judge who expressed doubt about the union’s case. Also, the state police contract expires June 30 and new contract negotiations are underway.

Proponents of the 2020 law said it answered the calls for reform after the police killings of George Floyd and other Black people. It also created a new state inspector general to investigate police use-of-force cases statewide, limited circumstances in which deadly use of force can be justified, and allowed lawsuits in state courts against officers in certain cases.


A Colorado man pleaded not guilty Thursday in federal court in Vermont to kidnapping a man who was later found shot to death in a snowbank in 2018 in what prosecutors allege is a murder-for-hire case stemming from a financial dispute.

Federal prosecutors say they believe Jerry Banks, 34, of Fort Garland, Colorado, killed Gregory Davis, 49, of Danville, Vermont, but he has not been charged in the killing. U.S. District Judge Geoffrey Crawford ordered Banks to remain detained until trial, noting the prosecutors’ concerns about his risk of flight and safety risk to potential witnesses.

“Someone who would kill for money would likely kill or improperly influence a witness or otherwise seek to influence the course of a trial that would result in his life in prison,” Paul Van de Graaf and Jonathan Ophardt, assistant U.S. attorneys for Vermont, wrote in their detention request. They said Banks has a history of living “off the grid” and no strong connection to Vermont or anywhere else in the country.

Banks’ federal public defender, Mary Nerino, did not contest detention and would not comment on the charges after the arraignment.

Davis was abducted from his Danville, Vermont, home on Jan. 6, 2018, and found shot to death the next day in a snowbank on a back road in Barnet.

Prosecutors detailed the alleged conspiracy in a filing Monday in federal court in Las Vegas. They wrote that Davis had been threatening to go to the FBI with information that Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, an inventor and the co-founder of a Los Angeles-based biotechnology company, was defrauding Davis in a multimillion-dollar oil deal Gumrukcu and Gumrukcu’s brother had entered into with Davis in 2015.

Gurumkcu was facing felony fraud charges in California in 2017 and was working on a deal that came together soon after Davis’ death that gave him significant ownership stake in Enochian Bioscience.


The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday reinstated a lawsuit against a senior living center where an 89-year-old woman was locked out in cold weather and died a few weeks later.

In a 4-2 order, the court said Independence Village in Oxford had a duty to provide reasonable care. The case will return to Oakland County court.

Virginia Kermath was wearing only a nightgown when she apparently walked out a side door without her keys in December 2013. She was outdoors for 14 minutes. Hypothermia and frostbite contributed to her eventual death.

Lower courts said the harm to Kermath wasn’t foreseeable by Independence Village. But the Supreme Court disagreed.

“The potential burden associated with taking reasonable measures to prevent residents from being locked out and unable to alert staff, such as installing a buzzer or cameras, appears minimal when compared to the potential harm that could befall residents,” the court said.

In a court filing, Independence Village said Kermath chose independent senior living and that she and her family never indicated that she needed supervision at night.


A suburban Philadelphia man charged in the January 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol after he was turned in by an ex-girlfriend after reportedly insulting her intelligence for not believing the election had been stolen has pleaded guilty to a felony count.

Richard Michetti, 29, of Ridley Park pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Washington to a charge of aiding and abetting obstruction of an official proceeding. He was originally also charged with trespassing, violent entry and disorderly conduct.

FBI authorities said a former romantic partner of Michetti alerted authorities about his presence a day after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. Officials said photos showed him inside the Capitol Rotunda.

The affidavit alleged that Michetti said he was there to protest the election results and told the informant in a text message several hours after the siege began “If you can’t see the election was stolen you’re a moron.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Michetti said little during Tuesday’s hearing. He is to be sentenced on Sept. 1, and although the charge carries a maximum 20-year sentence, federal sentencing guidelines call for call for a prison term of 15 to 21 months, the paper reported.

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