The Week in Review
MONDAY, DECEMBER 1 This week of fatal pranks, mistreated teens, and the long-awaited imprisonment of an unapologetic killer kicks off today with a glimpse of the creepy criminal underbelly of the all-access celebrity culture we Americans love so well. The setting: Los Angeles, California, where today, 49-year-old Lawanda Jackson, a former employee of UCLA Medical Center, pleaded guilty to selling information from the confidential medical files of Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett, and Maria Shriver to the tabloids. Actually, just one tabloid: the National Enquirer, which, as the Associated Press reports, deposited checks totaling at least $4,600 into the checking account of Jackson's husband in exchange for celebrity medical dirt obtained by his wife, a UCLA administrative specialist for 32 years, who reportedly used her supervisor's password to gain access to the confidential files. But beyond the criminal are those who benefited from her crimes: "Certainly there is possible culpability at media outlets if we can determine that they were knowingly paying for the illegal access of celebrity files," said U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Thom Mrozek to the AP, stipulating that while no charges have been filed against the Enquirer or any other publication, the role of the media is "part of the investigation." As for Jackson: Today she officially became a felon, pleading guilty to violating federal medical-privacy law for commercial purposes, for which she faces up to 10 years in prison, followed by three years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is set for May.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 2 The week continues, horrifically, in Northern California, where authorities in the town of Tracy scrambled to piece together the saga that exploded there yesterday afternoon, when a 17-year-old boy—clad only in filthy boxer shorts, shackled at the ankle, and covered in soot, feces, and blood—arrived at the In-Shape City Sports Club and begged employees to hide him. "I thought it was a prank costume," said assistant manager Lea Leonardo to the Tri-Valley Herald. "He was so dirty and had the chain around his foot. His feet were swollen, he was terrified and cold. He kept saying, 'They're going to come find me.'" Further details come from the Associated Press, which reports that one fitness-club employee called 911 while another wrapped the boy in towels and gave him food and water. Eventually the teen, who reportedly looked "no older than 10 or 12," told employees he'd been "picked up" after running away from a foster home to look for his family and had been held against his will for he didn't know how long. After interviewing the teen, police determined he'd been kept at a house "down the street" from the fitness club. By midnight, the police had arrested both 30-year-old Kelly Lau Schumacher and her 34-year-old husband, Michael Schumacher, on felony charges of torture, kidnapping, child beating, false imprisonment by violence, and conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor. Today brought a third arrest: 43-year-old Karen Ramirez, identified as the teen boy's aunt and a convicted felon, whom the AP reports had "been on the lam since being charged with abusing the same teen in an unrelated incident." As for the traumatized teen: Police say he'd been reported missing from a group foster home in Sacramento in 2007, and he continues to receive medical attention for his injuries.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 3 Speaking of tragedy: Non-brain-damaged readers will recall the recent story (a new holiday classic, by our standards) about the killer stampede at Wal-Mart, where frenzied "Black Friday" shoppers on Long Island knocked down and fatally trampled an independent contractor hired to cover store security. Today brings the obligatory part two to the tragic tale, as the family of the fatally trampled man—34-year-old Jdimytai Damour—filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., alleging that Damour's death was caused by "the carelessness, reckless negligence, wanton disregard for public safety, and gross negligence" in the "staging, conducting, and advertising for sales events." Reuters reports the lawsuit also names the shopping mall where the incident occurred as well as the security company employed by Wal-Mart; the family is seeking "unspecified damages." (In better legal news: Today also saw former Seattle City Council candidate Venus Velázquez pronounced not guilty of driving while intoxicated following her arrest on suspicion of DUI last fall.)
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4 Speaking of previously reported stories resulting in new criminal charges: Readers will remember the heartwarming story from October, when an 8-year-old boy at a Massachusetts gun expo fatally shot himself in the head with an Uzi submachine gun. Today began the legal parsing of blame for the shooting, with a quartet of involuntary manslaughter indictments filed against four alleged participants, including the City of Pelham's chief of police Edward Fleury (who owns COP Firearms and Training, which sponsored the gun expo), the Westfield Sportsman's Club (which hosted the expo), and two other men—Carl Guiffre of Hartford and Domenico Spano of New Milford—whose involvement in the youngster's death, ABC News reports, "was unclear." In addition to the manslaughter indictments, both Fleury and the Westfield Sportsman's Club were indicted on four counts each of furnishing a gun to a minor.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5 The week continues with a sentence Last Days has been itching to type since 10:00 a.m. on October 3, 1995: Today, O. J. Simpson was sentenced to prison. Having been found guilty of kidnapping and armed robbery, Simpson was today sentenced to at least 9 and up to 33 years in prison, after which he was led directly to jail in shackles. Better late than never. Now let's never speak of him again.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6 Nothing happened today, unless you count the accidentally deadly prank played by a group of teenagers in Puyallup, Washington, where tonight a group of seven friends was speeding away from the fireworks they'd just set off on a friend's porch when their SUV ran a stop sign and plowed into the car driven by Shawn Ausbun, who was identified by the Tacoma News Tribune as a 21-year-old Puyallup man driving home from work and who died at the scene. As for the prank-playing teens: One suffered minor injuries and the others ran away, with the driver falsely reporting the car had been stolen. Deputies have since rounded up all the teens, and charges are pending. Condolences to the friends and family of Ausbun, all of whom certainly deserved better, and confidential to Washington's teenagers: En masse, you all make each other stupider, so please, please be careful. No one wants manslaughter charges for Christmas.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7 Nothing happened today.
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