Dougherty gang: Ex-fugitive brothers plead guilty in Colorado

Dougherty gang
The “Dougherty gang” brothers -- accused of robbing a bank, shooting at a police officer and outrunning authorities in multiple states with their sister last summer -- pleaded guilty Thursday to charges in Colorado, where they were apprehended.

Ryan and Dylan Dougherty will be sentenced in April, along with their sister, Lee Grace, who entered her own guilty plea last week. Ryan faces up to 20 years in prison for charges stemming from a chase and shootout in southern Colorado; his sister and brother face up to 28 and 32 years, respectively, the Associated Press reported. All agreed to reduced charges in a deal with prosecutors.

The Doughertys’ crime spree stirred up nationwide interest because of the siblings’ youth -- all are in their 20s -- and its resemblance to a Hollywood screenplay. Ryan and Dylan were carpenters, Lee Grace an exotic dancer. Some dubbed the trio “Bonnie, Clyde & Clyde.”

According to a recent GQ magazine story, Ryan was facing up to 15 years in prison for violating his probation in Florida; he had been convicted of sending sexually explicit text messages to an underage girl. So the siblings hatched a daring -- some would say foolish -- plan.

They packed their Subaru with an AK-47 and nine other guns, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and some clothes and food, and took off with vague hopes of escaping to Mexico, GQ said.

It didn’t take long before a Florida cop tried to pull them over for speeding -- an effort thwarted, he reported, when someone in the Subaru fired off about a dozen rounds. After that, authorities said, the trio robbed a Georgia bank at gunpoint, zipping away with $5,200 in cash. (The siblings still face charges in those states.)

The chase ended in Colorado, where authorities stopped the Subaru with a spike strip and rounded up the Doughertys when they ran.

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Photo: Ryan Edward Dougherty, 21, Dylan Stanley-Dougherty, 26, and Lee Grace Dougherty, 29, have all pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a chase and shootout in southern Colorado. Credit: Pueblo County Sheriff's Office/Associated Press


Tennessee 'Don't Say Gay' bill clears a hurdle in state House

Bill_opponents
A bill that would ban teaching Tennessee kids about homosexuality before they reach the ninth grade was approved by a state House subcommittee Wednesday, reigniting an emotional debate in the buckle of the Bible Belt.

The bill, which would limit class discussions to "natural human reproduction science" in public schools, passed the House education subcommittee, which keeps it on track for consideration by the full House, according to reports in the Nashville Tennessean and the Nashville Scene.

To supporters, the bill gives parents control over how and when to educate their children about what is still, to some, a sensitive topic.

"The basic right as an American is my right to life, my right to liberty and my right to the pursuit of happiness," Democratic state Rep. John DeBerry said, according to the Tennessean. "Within that includes being able to run my home, raise my children as I see fit and indoctrinate them as I see fit."

Wednesday's hearing attracted a large crowd, including many high school students involved in gay-straight alliance groups at Nashville high schools. Some students stood on a busy street with their mouths covered in purple tape.

Only one subcommittee member opposed the measure. "It looks to me like a solution looking for a problem," Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, a Democrat, told the Tennessean.

The bill, authored by Republican lawmaker Stacey Campfield, passed the state Senate last year. Campfield prefers to call it a "Don't Teach Gay" bill, and has said it is necessary because homosexuality is more dangerous than heterosexuality.

Campfield recently incorrectly asserted on a a satellite radio talk show that the HIV epidemic began when a gay airline employee had sex with a monkey. His statements have earned him national attention and the ire of gay rights supporters both nationally and locally: A restaurant in his hometown of Knoxville recently refused to serve him.

Jeff Woods, a reporter at the Nashville Scene, noted that Wednesday's debate over the bill took a detour into the merits of the popular TV sitcom "Modern Family," which prominently features a gay couple.

A preacher told the committee that if the bill became law, kids might find out about gay people anyway if they tuned in to the show.

The subcommittee chair, Rep. Joey Hensley, said that he didn't think that "Modern Family" was an "appropriate" show for children.

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Photo: Opponents of a bill seeking to prohibit the teaching of gay issues to elementary and middle school students wear purple to a meeting of the House Education Subcommittee in Nashville on Wednesday. The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald advanced on a voice vote. Credit: Erik Schelzig/Associated Press


Can Johnny Cash amp up Nashville? City gets museum to music icon

Johnny CashHe was rediscovered by alternative rockers in the last years of his life, became the subject of a blockbuster biopic, and now the late country music icon Johnny Cash will have his own museum in downtown Nashville.

The plans for the 18,000-square-foot, private museum were unveiled Tuesday by members of the Cash family and Bill Miller, a longtime friend, fan and champion of the Man in Black, according to a report in the Nashville Tennessean.

"My father and mother [the late singer June Carter Cash] had a way through honesty and truth of spirit," said son John Carter Cash. "It's not about the glamour or about making it for Nashville. This is about spreading their spirit."

That spirit will certainly be welcome among Nashville's civic leaders, who have been working diligently in recent years to revitalize a once-moribund downtown, in great part by focusing on Nashville's historic role as America's country music capital. The Ryman Auditorium, once used for Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, was renovated in 1994. Seven years later saw the opening of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Like many a downtown revitalization tale, this one involves a group of more or less marginalized artists who blazed a trail and helped the business community recognize its rich trove of homegrown cultural capital. You can find a version of that argument at the website Savingcountrymusic.com, which credits punk-influenced, non-mainstream country musicians such as Joe Buck -- who typically looked backward to more rough-hewn country styles for inspiration -- for breathing life into the old haunts.

"The turnaround story for downtown Nashville doesn't involve acts of government," one of the blog's writers posted in September 2010. "Lower Broadway was revitalized by music, and specifically, the music that was the precursor to the music we listen to, and talk about on this site. Mainstream fans will sometimes put down this music as 'obscure' or irrelevant. Toby Keith and Tim McGraw didn't revitalize the most historic part of Nashville. It was a bunch of punk kids from all around the country, who moved to lower Broadway to walk the same streets Hank Williams walked."

Of course, if there is one country legend to bridge the gap between the wild-man-country-grungy and the conservative-country-slick, it is Cash, who continues to be revered by, and influential to, both camps.

His museum is set to open this summer, according to the Tennessean. Whether the punk kids will fork over the $13 admission remains to be seen.

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Credit: Late country music legend Johnny Cash is at his Hendersonville, Tenn., home in 1999. Credit: Mark Humphrey / Associated Press


In Atlanta, a legal sideshow over training of circus elephants

Elephants
In Atlanta, the storied Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is coming to town  this week. At the same time, a legal sideshow has sprouted up over the question of how to handle elephants humanely.

At issue is the use of an ancient, and some say cruel, tool used in the training and control of elephants. Known as a bullhook, or ankus, it is typically a long shaft with a metal hook at the end that is used to prod, and sometimes punish the animals. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleges that in the Ringling Bros. circus, "elephants are beaten, hit, poked, prodded and jabbed with sharp hooks, sometimes until bloody."

Concern about the use of bullhooks prompted commissioners in Fulton County, Ga., which includes much of Atlanta, to ban the use of the instruments in June, following the lead of municipalities in Florida, New York, and other states, according to Johnny Edwards of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

At the time, an official with Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros., said that if bullhooks were banned, it would be impossible to have elephants at the circus.

This week, a county judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents the county from enforcing animal control laws in the city, according to the paper.

Fulton County Commissioner Rob Pitts, who voted for the ban last year, said that the legal question revolves around the lack of a specific intergovernmental agreement between Atlanta and the county, which provides animal control for the city for a fee.

It is unclear what any of this means for Ringling Bros., which plans to roll into downtown Atlanta's Philips Arena on Wednesday for a six-day engagement. But presumably it means that the show will go on.

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Photo: Elephants are a draw for circus-goers; their treatment is an issue in several cities, including Atlanta. Here, young children line the sidewalk to watch elephants from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus parade by in Washington in 2009. Credit: Shawn Thew/EPA


In Alabama, honeymoon murder trial set to begin today

Gabe Watson, an Alabama man who has already served a brief prison sentence in Australia for the drowning of his bride during their 2003 honeymoon in that country, is set to be tried again today in Birmingham on two fresh counts of murder

An Alabama man who has already served a brief prison sentence in Australia for the drowning of his bride during their 2003 honeymoon in that country is set to be tried again today in Birmingham on two fresh counts of murder.

Gabe Watson, 34, is accused of drowning his new wife, Tina Thomas Watson, by turning off her air supply during a diving excursion in Australia, according to the Associated Press. He says it was an accident. Prosecutors allege that he killed her in order to get a life insurance payout.

Watson has already served 18 months in an Australian prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter there in 2009, reported Eric Velasco of the Birmingham News. But Australian officials extradited Watson so that he could be tried in Alabama.

The family of the slain woman and Alabama's former attorney general, Troy King, were critical of the way the Australian case was handled, and pressed for Watson to be tried stateside.

Velasco reported that the prosecution will have to show that some aspects of the crime occurred in Alabama.

Watson faces a potential automatic sentence of life without parole. Australian officials only agreed to extradite him if Alabama officials promised not to seek the death penalty.

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Photo: Gabe Watson listens to the proceedings during a January hearing in his case in a Jefferson County, Ala., courtroom. Credit: Bernard Troncale / Birmingham News / Associated Press


Ex-New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin reportedly faces corruption probe

New Orleans Mayor Ray NaginFormer New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin, who gained national prominence with his anguished on-air cries for assistance during the disastrous floods that plagued his city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, is the subject of a federal grand jury corruption probe, according to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The story by reporter David Hammer, which relies on several anonymous sources, states that the investigation is exploring whether vendors with the city gave Nagin perks such as plane tickets, and equipment and materials to a granite-countertop company owned by Nagin's family.

One element of the probe, according to the paper: whether vendors helped the Nagin family firm secure an exclusive deal to install granite countertops on behalf of local Home Depot stores at the same time Home Depot was trying to buy land for a new store in New Orleans' Central City neighborhood.

Another issue reportedly under consideration: whether Nagin broke any laws by accepting airfare and jet rides to Hawaii, Jamaica and other locales that were provided, the Picayune reports, by Mark St. Pierre, a tech-world businessman who is serving a prison sentence for bribing the Nagin administration's technology chief at the time.

Nagin, the paper says, believed that his technology chief, Greg Meffert, was the source of the free rides. Nagin could be in legal trouble if it turns out that he knew that they were actually provided by St. Pierre.

Meffert pleaded guilty to corruption charges in 2010, according to local TV station WDSU. His attorney has said he is cooperating with federal investigators.

Nagin's attorney, Howard Rosenberg, and Jim Letten, the U.S. attorney in New Orleans, both declined to comment to the Times-Picayune.

-- Richard Fausset in Atlanta

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Paradise Garden: New hope for artist Howard Finster's masterpiece

Photo: Former New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin in a 2006 file photo. Credit: Diane Bondareff/Associated Press


Paradise Garden: New hope for artist Howard Finster's masterpiece

Finster

The late Rev. Howard Finster, one of the best known American folk artists of the last half-century, always considered his masterwork to be the Paradise Garden behind his house in out-of-the-way Chattooga County, Ga. The nearly four acres of murals, plants, sculptures, biblical visions and curious homemade buildings were the artist's attempt to echo God's work described in the Book of Genesis.

Since Finster's death in 2001, the fantastical site -- at one time a pilgrimage site for artists such as Keith Haring and musicians such as R.E.M. -- has fallen into disrepair. A few years ago, Finster's daughter sold the property to a nonprofit organization headed by a preacher from Alabama; the preacher hoped to raise $350,000 to restore the site but never quite found a way to pull the project off.

Now, however, there is new hope. A new nonprofit called the Paradise Garden Foundation this week announced that Chattooga County had purchased the site for $125,000, assisted by donations from locals and a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal economic development entity.

"Our goal is to save this local, national and internationally renowned art site while creating a sustainable heritage tourism destination to promote our local economy," County Commissioner Jason Winters said in a statement.

The new Paradise Garden Foundation, headed by Jordan H. Poole, the former restoration manager at George Washington's historic Mount Vernon home, is developing a site management plan and will direct a new fundraising campaign for restorations. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is pitching in with an effort to attract tourists.

Much of the art in the garden is long gone, in private collections and museums around the world, but the site in northwest Georgia is still uniquely evocative of the self-taught painter who rocketed from obscurity to national prominence in the 1980s with his idiosyncratic, "visionary" paintings, largely due to his association with R.E.M., arguably that era's preeminent taste-making rock 'n' roll group.

Finster's painting for the Talking Heads' 1985 "Little Creatures" LP won Rolling Stone's award for best album cover in 1985, and his works were displayed at the Venice Biennale.

But art fans knew that the best way to experience Finster's vision was to visit with him in his garden. Poole, in a phone interview Friday, said his goal was to make it a place worth visiting again.

"We want to follow Howard's vision -- and that was to promote an artistic culture in this community," he said.

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Photo: Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Summerville, Ga., in 2007. Credit: Erik S. Lesser / Los Angeles Times


'Dougherty gang' sister enters guilty plea in Colorado

 

Lee Grace Dougherty

Lee Grace Dougherty, one of the fugitive siblings of the Dougherty gang caught after a nationwide dragnet last summer, has pleaded guilty to reduced charges in Colorado and will have to serve at least nine years in prison, officials said.

 

Dougherty, 29, appeared in Huerfano County District Court in Walsenburg, Colo., about 160 miles south of Denver, on Thursday to plead guilty to one count of attempted first-degree assault and two counts of felony menacing, all felonies, according to court records.

As part of the plea, prosecutors agreed to drop 21 other charges against Dougherty, said Rob McCallum, a spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department, who spoke with The Times.

Prosecutors had charged Dougherty, a former stripper, with five counts of attempted second-degree murder and other felonies connected with the chase and capture of her and her two brothers in southern Colorado on Aug. 10. The chase proved to be the end of what authorities described as a seven-state crime rampage by the clan dubbed “Bonnie, Clyde & Clyde.”

There's nothing in the deal that requires Dougherty to testify against her younger brothers, Ryan Dougherty, 21, and Dylan Stanley-Dougherty, 26.

The three are accused of shooting at a police officer in their native Florida, and later robbing a Georgia bank on their way to Colorado.

The most serious charge in Colorado, attempted first-degree assault, was for pointing a gun at Walsenburg Police Chief James Chamberlain, who watched Thursday’s plea hearing from a back bench, McCallum said. Chamberlain shot Dougherty in the knee after she and her brothers rolled their car at the end of a lengthy high-speed chase and she emerged pointing a gun at him.

At Thursday’s hearing, the judge asked Dougherty if she was taking any pain medication for the wound that could cloud her judgment in entering a guilty plea, and she assured him she was not, that it was just a scar, McCallum said.

Dougherty appeared before Huerfano District Court Chief Judge Claude Appel on Thursday in a yellow jail jumpsuit, hands shackled at her waist, her blond-brown hair darker than it was in August and pulled back in a ponytail, McCallum said.

McCallum said the judge took his time in reviewing the plea with Dougherty.

“He was very methodical this morning with Lee Grace — he wanted to make sure she understood,” McCallum said.

In response, Dougherty said of the plea: “This is really what I want to do.”

McCallum described Dougherty as “very quiet, very respectful to the court.”

At one point, when the judge asked Dougherty if she was satisfied with her attorney, court-appointed public defender Patrick McCarville, Dougherty described him as “the best lawyer ever,” McCallum said.

 “She seemed to be in a good mood,” McCallum said.

Dougherty’s attorney could not be reached for comment Thursday. The prosecutor handling the case did not return calls. The judge has imposed a gag order because of the pending cases against Dougherty’s brothers, McCallum said.

Dougherty faces a maximum of 28 years in prison when she is sentenced April 30, McCallum said. The judge agreed to let Dougherty serve her Colorado sentence at the same time as any other sentences she may receive stemming from charges filed against her in Georgia and Florida.

She was being held at the Huerfano County Jail on Thursday, McCallum said.

Her two brothers are next scheduled to appear at plea hearings in Colorado on Feb. 16, but it was not clear Thursday whether their cases will go to trial, McCallum said.

Ryan Dougherty was being held at the Huerfano County Jail on Thursday, but brother Dylan Dougherty had been moved to Pueblo County Jail and now faces additional charges after he allegedly attempted to escape and was caught with contraband, McCallum said.

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Photo: Lee Grace Dougherty is shown in August at the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office detention center in Pueblo, Colo., the day after she was arrested along with her two younger brothers. Credit: Mike Sweeney / Pueblo Chieftain


Nuclear power: Feds may OK first reactors since Three Mile Island

Georgia's Plant Vogtle nuclear facility
Will today mark the beginning of a new American nuclear age?

Federal regulators in Washington on Thursday may decide whether to approve construction of what would be the first U.S. nuclear power plant since the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island.

The $14-billion project would bring two new reactors to Georgia's Plant Vogtle, which already has two reactors, constructed more than two decades ago.

If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission votes to approve the request to build the reactors, they could be up and running as early as 2016, according to the Associated Press.

Plant Vogtle, set in the countryside in Burke County, near Augusta, provides Georgia with 10% of its electricity. The new reactors could double its capacity.

The Southern Co., whose subsidiary, Georgia Power, owns the bulk of the Vogtle facility, argues that nuclear power is the "most cost-effective, reliable and environmentally responsible fuel source today." The company also notes that demand for electricity is expected to rise 27% in the Southeast.

The new reactors will be based on a Westinghouse design that has already been approved by the NRC, according to the company.

A number of anti-nuclear groups, meanwhile, say they will file a lawsuit to force the plant owners to divulge more details about how the buildings will be protected against earthquakes such as the one that hit Japan last year, leading to damage to the Fukushima Daichi nuclear plant, and other potential catastrophes, according to Kristi E. Swartz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Because the plants are being built with a federal subsidy of more than $8 billion in loan guarantees, anti-nuclear forces have derisively described the project as "Solyndra on Steroids," a reference to the now-bankrupt solar-equipment company that was the recipient of a $535-million loan guarantee -- a perk that some Republicans suspect was a political favor to a major Obama administration campaign donor who was also a key Solyndra investor.

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Photo: Steam rises from the cooling towers of nuclear reactors at Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle, in Waynesboro, Ga., in April 2010. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to vote Thursday on Southern Co.'s application to begin full construction of the nation's first new nuclear units in 30 years at Plant Vogtle. Credit: Mary Ann Chastain/Associated Press


N.C. trooper who kicked his dog should get job back, court says

Police.officer.dog
Dog lovers everywhere were outraged when a video hit the Internet in 2007 showing Ricoh, a drug-sniffing police dog, being kicked and yanked by his trainer, North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones.

The public uproar triggered by the video helped lead to Jones’ firing in September 2007, a month after the training incident. Now, more than four years later, a state appeals court has ruled that Jones should get his job back and receive back pay totaling more than $200,000.

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Jones should be reinstated, the News and Observer of Raleigh reported. The panel upheld earlier decisions by a state Superior Court judge, an administrative law judge and a state personnel commission that supported Jones’ attempt to recover his job.

The state could ask the North Carolina Supreme Court to review the panel’s decision. Jones was ordered fired by the governor at the time, Mike Easley.

Jones has said he was acting within patrol policy when he was videotaped kicking Ricoh, a Belgian Malinois, while disciplining the dog during a training session in August 2007. The video appeared on the Internet at the same time as the dog-fighting and abuse scandal involving NFL quarterback Michael Vick.

The video shows Jones wrapping Ricoh’s leash over a railing, then yanking and raising the dog by its neck so that only its back feet touched the ground. Jones then kicked Ricoh five times, causing the dog’s legs to swing out from under it. Jones was disciplining the dog after it refused to release a piece of fire hose given as a reward for alerting officers to the presence of narcotics.

At a hearing on a lawsuit by Jones suing the state for firing him, a fellow trooper testified that the patrol’s dog handlers were taught to "use any means necessary to discipline" a dog in order to control the animal.

"If he’s not in control, let’s be honest -- the dog turns into a four-wheel-drive stabbing machine," the trooper testified.

Jones’ lawyer, Jack O’Hale, said in 2010 that Jones’ actions were consistent with accepted training methods. "We’re not dealing with household pets. These are weapons. We’ve got to train accordingly."

O’Hale told the News and Observer that the state should not challenge the appeals court’s ruling. "Everybody tells me the state is broke, and yet they keep spending taxpayers’ money to fight this," O’Hale said.

Jones, who now works as a police officer in Apex, N.C., had worked with Ricoh for six years before the training incident.

Tamara Zmuda, a lawyer representing the state during a hearing on Jones’ appeal, said Jones was fired for violating the patrol’s "unbecoming conduct" policy and bringing the K-9 unit "into disrepute."

"No reasonable person would do what he did that day," Zmuda said.

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Photo: Former North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper Charles L. Jones, shown in this screen grab, was videotaped kicking and yanking his dog. Warning: The video, available on YouTube, contains graphic content. Credit: YouTube


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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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