Lawyers working to avoid retrial of man just off death row

By DAN SEWELL Associated Press
CINCINNATI (AP) — Prosecutors and lawyers for a Jordanian man who spent two decades on Ohio’s death row before his conviction was tossed said Thursday that they are trying to work out an agreement to avoid his retrial.
Ahmad Fawzi Issa, 49, in jail stripes and handcuffs, pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder in Hamilton County court. He will remain jailed without bond. While the murder charge may end up being dropped, attorneys said Issa will face likely deportation to his homeland after this case is resolved.
Issa was convicted in 1998 and sentenced to die for allegedly arranging the 1997 slaying of a Cincinnati convenience store owner. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year threw out his conviction, ruling that his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him was violated and that hearsay testimony was used to convict him.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Ohio’s appeal and gave the state six months to retry Issa or release him.
Prosecutor Mark Piepmeier said it would be difficult to take the case to trial again after so many years, and that at least two of the original police investigators have died. He also said of three people charged in the case, Issa, the alleged middleman in a contract murder, got the strongest sentence in the slaying of store owner Maher Khriss.
“The least morally culpable, in my mind, is the guy that got the death penalty,” Piepmeier told The Associated Press. “It’s kind of unjust.”
Judge J. Patrick Foley III scheduled a July 18 hearing for an update on the case.
“Right now, he’s pretty positive and upbeat,” said Issa’s defense attorney Timothy McKenna, who added that he is still reviewing the original case.
Khriss’ wife, Linda, was charged with hiring someone to kill him but was acquitted at her trial. Andre Miles was convicted of two counts of aggravated murder of Maher Khriss and his brother Ziad Khriss in the parking lot of Maher’s store in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 1997.
Miles is serving life in prison without parole. Miles refused to testify at Issa’s trial, in which other witnesses said Miles told them he was hired by Issa to kill the store owner.
The appeals court said Miles’ statements “are the only direct evidence implicating Issa in a murder for hire.” The court’s ruling also pointed out that Miles’ friends said he often bragged and lied.
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Ohio State trustees move to revoke honor for abusive doctor

By KANTELE FRANKO Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A committee of Ohio State University trustees voted Thursday to revoke the emeritus status of a team doctor found to have sexually abused young men throughout his two decades there.
The full board of trustees could vote Friday on canceling the mark of distinguished service for Richard Strauss, who died in 2005. It would be a symbolic rebuke, removing only an honorary label.
“While we cannot erase what Strauss did, today we’re asking the committee to the correct the record in terms of his faculty status,” Provost Bruce McPheron said. Ohio State has never stripped someone of emeritus status, he said.
University President Michael Drake told the trustees’ Academic Affairs and Student Life committee that it’s an “immediate and necessary step” in the wake of an investigation over the past year that concluded the doctor sexually abused at least 177 male students from 1979 to 1997.
Those young men included athletes from a variety of sports and patients at the student health center and his off-campus medical office. The law firm hired to investigate the allegations for Ohio State also found that university officials heard about Strauss’ behavior during his tenure but did little to intervene back then.
Strauss retired in 1998. No one has publicly defended him. In a statement after the investigation report was released, Strauss’ family offered condolences to the abuse survivors and said it was heartbreaking to read about their suffering.
The university continues to review the report and take appropriate action, Drake said.
The State Medical Board had a confidential investigation involving Strauss near the end of his Ohio State career but never disciplined him. A state panel tasked with reviewing the handling of that old case began its work Thursday, and its report is due by Aug. 1.
Dozens of the men who say they were abused by Strauss are plaintiffs in four federal lawsuits against the university that allege officials knew concerns about the physician’s behavior and turned a blind eye to it for years. Some of those lawsuits have been sent to mediation in an effort to resolve them.
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This story has been updated to correct McPheron’s quote to “… correct the record in terms of his faculty status” instead of “… correct the record regarding his status.”

Police: 13-year-old arrested in fatal shooting of boy, 14

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Police say a 13-year-old boy has been arrested in the death of a 14-year-old boy who was shot near an Ohio school.
Columbus police say the younger boy was arrested Tuesday night in front of his attorney’s office.
He is being charged as a juvenile. The Associated Press doesn’t generally name juveniles charged with crimes.
Police have said they believe the teen who died, Jaykwon Sharp, had been in an argument with the shooter.
Jaykwon and a 14-year-old girl injured in the May 22 shooting were found on a sidewalk near Shady Lane Elementary School that evening. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Police spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis tells The Columbus Dispatch that officers are investigating whether anyone helped the suspect avoid arrest over the past week.

ACLU: JPMorgan Chase settles paternal leave class action

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A civil rights group says JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $5 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by male employees who say they were denied additional paid parental leave between 2011 and 2017.
The American Civil Liberties Union and law firm Outten & Golden announced the settlement Thursday.
Chase employee Derek Rotondo filed an equal opportunity claim in 2017 when he tried to get 14 additional paid weeks after his son was born. He was told by Chase that while mothers are eligible for 16 weeks as primary caregivers, non-primary caregivers were only eligible for two weeks.
The Chase policy was always gender neutral but was updated after the lawsuit to make that clear.
A Chase spokesman welcomed the agreement and thanked Rotondo for raising the issue.
This story has been updated to show that Chase’s policy was always gender neutral but was updated after the lawsuit to make that clear.

Heeded alarms may have limited deaths in Ohio tornadoes

CELINA, Ohio (AP) — Strong Memorial Day tornadoes that spun through Ohio and Indiana smashed homes and businesses and sent thousands of people cowering in basements and closets, but just a single death was reported in the aftermath of the destructive storms.
Hospitals reported that as many as 130 people were injured after the tornadoes pounded communities in and around Dayton on Monday night amid a severe weather outbreak.
The Memorial Day tornadoes were followed Tuesday night by a vicious storm that tore through the Kansas City area, spawning more tornadoes that damaged homes and injured at least 12 people. The storms were among 53 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down Monday across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado.
Tornado warnings stretched as far east as New York City, and the National Weather Service confirmed a touchdown in Pennsylvania.
The past couple of weeks have seen unusually high tornado activity in the U.S. Officials said more fatalities have been prevented by people doing what they were supposed to do when the tornadoes were heading their way.
The National Weather Service has so far confirmed eight tornadoes hit in the Dayton, Ohio, region as storms swept through Monday night and early Tuesday. They included severe-damage tornadoes in Celina, Beavercreek and Trotwood near Dayton. More stormy weather was expected Wednesday in the region, with the chance for scattered strong storms.
In hard-hit Celina, site of the only Ohio fatality, Fire Chief Douglas Wolters cited alerts people received on their phones and extensive coverage by TV meteorologists ahead of the storm, giving residents a 10-minute warning.
“Everybody I talked to said they heeded the warning and went straight to the basement,” Wolters said Tuesday evening.
Southwestern Ohio hasn’t been nearly as lucky when tornadoes roared through in previous years. One of the most violent tornadoes ever recorded struck Xenia, Ohio, 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of Dayton, on April 3, 1974, killing 32 people and nearly wiping the city off the map. It was part of what meteorologists termed a Super Outbreak that spawned 148 tornadoes in 13 U.S. states and Ontario, Canada, in a 24-hour period.
Early on April 9, 1999, a powerful twister smashed into Blue Ash and Montgomery near Cincinnati, leaving four people dead and at least 100 homeless.
The storms Tuesday were the 12th straight day that at least eight tornadoes were reported to the weather service.
After Monday’s tornadoes, Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in the three counties with the most damage.
The winds peeled away roofs — leaving homes looking like giant dollhouses — knocked houses off their foundations, toppled trees, brought down power lines and churned up so much debris that it could be seen on radar. Highway crews had to use snowplows to clear Interstate 75 near Dayton. One person was also injured in Indiana.
In Celina, Ohio, 82-year-old Melvin Dale Hanna was killed when a parked car was blown into his house, authorities said.
“There’s areas that truly look like a war zone,” said Jeffrey Hazel, mayor of the town of 10,000 about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Dayton.
Associated Press writers Mitch Stacy in Columbus, Ohio: Dan Sewell and Amanda Seitz in Cincinnati; David Runk in Detroit; Kantele Franko and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; and Marjory Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed.

Lawmakers consider 2 plans to change Ohio graduation rules

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers are considering competing proposals to change high school graduation requirements again, after already easing rules for students earning diplomas this year and next year.
A plan backed by the State Board of Education would let students qualify for graduation by demonstrating competency in certain subjects through testing or alternatives such as a culminating project.
The other proposal would require students to complete minimum courses, reflect competency on state math and English exams, and earn two diploma seals for achievements in academics or other activities. It was developed by a consortium of school districts called the Alliance for High Quality Education, with the business group Ohio Excels and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank.
Teachers unions have advocated for graduation pathways that aren’t dependent on test scores.

EPA accepts grant proposals for runoff prevention projects

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking grant applications for projects intended to reduce runoff of polluted water into the Great Lakes.
About $14 million will be divided among roughly 30 projects targeting excess nutrients and storm water, which feed harmful algae blooms and otherwise degrade water quality.
One category of recipients will include projects that use market-based approaches, which EPA says will lower costs.
Others will focus on riparian restoration in the Maumee River area, green infrastructure, manure management and farmer-led education and outreach programs.
The grants are being offered under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which funds projects dealing with longstanding challenges such as toxic pollution and invasive species, runoff and habitat loss.
The application deadline is July 12. Government agencies, tribes, universities and nonprofits are among those eligible.

Tornadoes leave trail of destruction across Ohio, Indiana

BROOKVILLE, Ohio (AP) — A rapid-fire line of apparent tornadoes tore across Indiana and Ohio overnight, packed so closely together that one crossed the path carved by another.
There were no immediate reports of any deaths or serious injuries in the twisters, among 52 tornadoes that may have touched down Monday across eight states as waves of severe weather swept across the nation’s mid-section.
A tally of storm reports posted online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center shows that 14 suspected tornadoes touched down in Indiana, 10 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Six suspected tornadoes were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois, three in Minnesota, while one suspected tornado was reported in Idaho in the West.
At least half a dozen communities from eastern Indiana through central Ohio suffered damage, according to the National Weather Service. The storms damaged homes, blew out windows, toppled trees and left debris so thick that at one point, highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an interstate.
The National Weather Service tweeted Monday night that a “large and dangerous tornado” hit near Trotwood, Ohio, eight miles (12 kilometers) northwest of Dayton. Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the Westbrooke Village Apartment complex, where an aerial photo shows the roof blown off entirely.
Just before midnight, not 40 minutes after that tornado cut through, the weather service tweeted that another one was traversing its path, churning up debris densely enough to be seen on radar.
In Trotwood, Mayor Mary McDonald reported “catastrophic damage” in the community of some 24,500 people. Hara Arena, idled in recent years after decades as a popular sports and entertainment venue, sustained “a huge amount of damage.”
The mayor said five busloads of displaced residents have been taken to a church offering temporary shelter while the American Red Cross assesses needs.
Some of the heaviest hits were recorded in towns just outside Dayton. In Vandalia, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) directly north of the city, Francis Dutmers and his wife were headed for the basement and safety Monday night when the storm hit with “a very loud roar.”
“I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands,” said Dutmers, who said the winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with storm debris, and took down most of his trees. But he and his wife were not injured and the house is still livable, he said.
In Brookville, west of Dayton, the storm tore roofs off schools, destroyed a barn and heavily damaged houses.
Crews were also clearing debris in two other counties northwest of Dayton.
In Dayton, the storm caused a few minor injuries but no reported fatalities. Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne called that “pretty miraculous” during a Tuesday morning briefing. Payne attributed the good news to people heeding early warnings about the storm.
Residents say sirens started going off around 10:30 p.m. Monday ahead of the storm.
Mayor Nan Whaley urged residents to check on neighbors, especially those who are housebound. Multiple schools in the area were closed or had delayed starts Tuesday.
City Manager Shelley Dickstein said a boil advisory has been issued for residents after the storms cut power to Dayton’s pump stations, and that generators are being rushed in.
The response will require a “multi-day restoration effort,” utility Dayton Power & Light said in an early morning tweet. The company said 64,000 of its customers alone were without power.
In Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, Sheriff Rob Streck said many roads were impassable. The Montgomery County sheriff’s office initially said the Northridge High School gymnasium would serve as an emergency shelter in Dayton but later said it wasn’t useable.
In Indiana, at least 75 homes were damaged in Pendleton and the nearby community of Huntsville, said Madison County Emergency Management spokesman Todd Harmeson. No serious injuries were reported in the area or other parts of the state.
Residents in Pendleton, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Indianapolis, were being urged to remain in their homes Tuesday morning because of dangers posed by fallen trees, downed power lines and utility poles that were also blocking roads.
“People are getting antsy. I know they want to get outdoors and I know they want to see what’s going on in the neighborhood, but we still have power lines down, we still have hazards out there,” Harmeson said.
Pendleton High School was opened as a shelter for the community, where more than 3,500 homes and businesses were without power and utility crews were at work repairing downed power lines.
Harmeson said only one injury was reported in Madison County, that of a person who suffered a small cut to their forehead and was treated and released from a local hospital.
“We’re very fortunate,” he said.
The National Weather Service said a survey team will investigate damage in Madison County and possibly in Henry County. Another team may survey damage in Tippecanoe County.
The latest apparent tornadoes came two nights after a twister struck a motel and mobile home park in El Reno, Oklahoma, killing two people and injuring 29. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that that he spoke from Japan with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and told him that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the “federal government are fully behind him and the great people of Oklahoma.”
Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and David Runk in Detroit contributed. Franko reported from Columbus, Ohio.

Thousands of US kindergartners unvaccinated without waivers

By JULIE CARR SMYTH Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — States are heatedly debating whether to make it more difficult for students to avoid vaccinations for religious or philosophical reasons amid the worst measles outbreak in decades, but schoolchildren using such waivers are outnumbered in many states by those who give no excuse at all for lacking their shots.
A majority of unvaccinated or undervaccinated kindergartners in at least 10 states were allowed to enroll provisionally for the last school year, without any formal exemption, according to data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 27 states submitted information about the group, so the true size of the problem is unknown.
Poor access to health care keeps some of those children from getting inoculated against some of the most preventable contagious diseases, but for others the reasons are more mundane.
“It really could just be, ‘I didn’t have time to go to the doctor,’ or ‘I just don’t want to do this,'” said Melissa Arnold, CEO of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Ohio chapter. “From a public health standpoint, we really don’t know.”
Experts say it’s likely that many or even most of those children ultimately get all their vaccinations, as state laws require, but no one knows for sure. It’s neither tracked nor required to be.
That leaves officials with a maddening lack of information as vaccination rates inch downward and diseases like measles, once declared eradicated, reemerge.
The CDC has called on education officials to do more to ensure that those children get vaccinated, and state health and education departments routinely issue reminders. But for school officials, complying with state mandates that require children be vaccinated in order to attend class can sometimes require choosing between educating students and safeguarding public health.
“At the heart of our purpose is to have children in school; that’s our role as school nurses,” said Kate King, a board member at the Ohio Association of School Nursing. “We don’t want to exclude them. So that’s our dilemma.”
All 50 states allow students to receive exemptions from vaccinations for medical reasons. But formal vaccine exemptions for religious or philosophical reasons have recently come under fire as the CDC has confirmed 880 measles cases in 24 states since January, the greatest number since 1994.
But children whose vaccinations are incomplete for other reasons can’t be ignored.
Of the 27 states that reported data on that group for the 2017-2018 school year, Arkansas had the highest percentage of kindergarten students enrolled without complete vaccinations and without invoking a medical, religious or philosophical exemption, according to the CDC . In Ohio, that figure was 5.3%, the second highest. Georgia and Hawaii were lowest, at 0.2%.
Neither Ohio nor Arkansas has any measles cases yet this year, but health officials say the percentages of unvaccinated children are a worry. A 95% immunization rate is considered necessary to achieve group resistance to the spread of a contagious disease, officials said.
“If it gets here, it will be bad,” King said of Ohio.
In the 10 states where unvaccinated kindergartners lacking exemptions outnumbered unvaccinated kindergartners who invoked them, the figures were striking: Only about 15,000 children were using exemptions compared to almost 27,000 who weren’t. Overall, the 27 states reported about 60,000 kindergartners who were unvaccinated without exemptions and about 70,000 who used them.
States provide anywhere from a few days to many months for students to get vaccinated, but officials in charge of the vaccination data for several different states said no system is in place to go back and check whether children ever get caught up.
Once a grace period expires, barring a student from attending school can be a tough call, risking the child’s educational outcomes and, in some urban districts, their safety.
In Pennsylvania, officials recently shrank the state’s eight-month grace period to just five days, said Cindy Findley, the state’s acting deputy secretary for health promotion and disease prevention. The shorter window brings more focus and resources to the issue at the busy start of school.
“What we’d find is children would go through the entire school year and not be up-to-date with their vaccinations and basically carry on to the next age group,” she said.
Other states, including Arkansas and Indiana, now require public reporting of kindergarten immunization rates by schools, and Colorado has made the information easier to access. Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, medical director for immunizations at the Arkansas Department of Health, said the idea is to draw attention to the issue and to provide parents with information that might affect their choice of school.
The CDC theorizes that “vaccine hesitancy” — fueled by a vocal anti-vaccination movement that contends some shots are unsafe despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary — has contributed to rising levels of unvaccinated schoolchildren in the U.S. But in Arkansas, Dillaha said, the issue is access.
Most Arkansas children are on Medicaid, health insurance for low-income residents, and 16 of 75 Arkansas counties have only the local health department to turn to for vaccinations, she said. That means no doctor’s offices, clinics or corner pharmacies to make the procedure convenient.
“We have a weak immunization infrastructure,” she said. “Consequently, because there are access issues, it varies from school to school how rigidly they enforce attendance requirements for vaccinations.”
In Ohio, state data show the number of unvaccinated students remains high as students go through the school system, with 10% of seventh graders last year undervaccinated without invoking an exemption.
Ohio’s last measles outbreak occurred in 2014 Knox County and was traced to the local Amish community, where vaccination rates trail the general population’s because their traditional lifestyle tends to eschew anything but the most vital medical care, said Pam Palm, a spokeswoman for the Knox County Health Department.
But even with that history, officials try to be flexible. Steve Larcomb, superintendent of the East Knox Local Schools in Knox County, recalled accommodating a parent who was new to the district, busy moving and awaiting a child’s doctor’s appointment five weeks in the future.
“We try not to draw too many lines in the sand and be too hard core, because we understand family situations,” Larcomb said.
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Review: Ohio medical marijuana industry growth still slow

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A report says fewer than one in every three medical marijuana dispensaries in Ohio that received a provisional license have also been granted an operating license.
State officials say the dispensaries receive extra scrutiny because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level.
Ali Simon is a spokeswoman for the state pharmacy board. She says safeguards must be in place because of the importance of patient safety.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that 17 of the 56 dispensaries granted provisional licenses have been given operating licenses.
Tim Johnson is co-founder of the Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, which promotes the medical cannabis industry, and one of several critics of Ohio’s medical marijuana regulation.
He says the state is overregulating the industry and should let the free market prevail.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch,