News Briefing: May 8-14, 2015

News Briefing: May 8-14, 2015

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Court won’t consider appeal in Shephard case

The state Supreme Court has declined to consider the appeal of William F. Smithson, who’s convicted of murdering Jason Shephard in 2006.

Smithson wanted the court to consider granting him a new trial for Shephard’s murder.

But in a one-page order issued April 14, the court’s five judges denied Smithson’s request to consider his appeal.

In 2008, Smithson was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the strangulation death of Shephard. 

Both men worked for Daktronics, an electronic-billboard manufacturer.

In 2006, Smithson invited Shephard to his Delaware County home. There, Smithson strangled Shephard in the course of trying to rape him, according to prosecutors.

Smithson denies the allegations. 

He maintains that F. Bruce Covington, who was also inside Smithson’s home when Shephard died, wasn’t properly investigated.

Covington was convicted of drug-related offenses relating to the incident, but prosecutors say he didn’t kill Shephard.

In December, the state Superior Court denied Smithson’s request for a new trial, stating that Covington was adequately investigated.

Advocates for Smithson, who is openly gay, say there’s no direct evidence linking Smithson to Shephard’s murder. They also say homophobia played a significant role in Smithson’s prosecution.

Smithson, 50, remains incarcerated at a state prison in Huntingdon.


No gag order in Pennsauken case

U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider has declined to issue a gag order in the federal lawsuit filed by Thomas Vandergrift, an openly gay teacher.

Vandergrift alleges that Pennsauken school district officials wrongfully accused him of child molestation after he advocated for a proper education for his autistic nephew.

Vandergrift seeks policy changes within the school district and an unspecified amount in damages.

Pennsauken officials claim Vandergrift defamed defendants and violated confidentiality requirements on his Facebook page.

They asked Schneider to issue a gag order in the case, but on April 29, Schneider rejected their request.

“Plaintiffs have a First Amendment right to discuss the litigation,” Schneider wrote. “Additionally, trial is still far off. At this time, Pennsauken has not submitted persuasive evidence that plaintiffs are likely to interfere with its right to a fair trial. Nor has Pennsauken submitted persuasive evidence that [Vandergrift’s Facebook] posts will have a substantial likelihood of causing material prejudice to this litigation.”

Neither side had a comment for this update.

A pre-trial status conference is set for 3 p.m. June 4 at the U.S. Courthouse in Camden, N.J.


Workplace-bias trial continues

The workplace-bias trial of Jeffrey S. Downs has moved into its second week.

Downs, an openly gay attorney, claims that two Center City law firms discriminated against him due to anti-LGBT bias.

The law firms that allegedly discriminated against Downs are Anapol Schwartz and Raynes McCarty.

Anti-LGBT bias allegedly cost Downs a job at Anapol, and a job offer at Raynes.

A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury must decide whether to hold Anapol liable for defamation and tortious interference.

Defense attorneys contend that Downs made unreasonable demands at Anapol, justifying Raynes’ withdrawal of a job offer.

But last week, attorney Daniel C. Fleming, a former supervisor of Downs, praised his legal acumen.

“He was a great attorney,” Fleming testified.

He said Downs was particularly talented at vindicating people’s civil rights.

“It’s something I’ve never forgotten,” Fleming added.

The trial is expected to end by next week.  

— Timothy Cwiek


Stimulus party to fundraise for Philly Dyke March

This weekend’s Back 2 Basics party, hosted by Stimulus Philly, will raise funds for next month’s Philly Dyke March.

The event will be held 10 p.m.-2 a.m. May 9 at Tabu Lounge, 200 S. 12th St.

The party will feature drink specials, such as $3 PBR pounders and $5 well drinks, with cover $5 before midnight and $10 after. Proceeds will support next month’s march, scheduled for June 13.

The Back 2 Basics party will also serve as the official after party for SEXx Interactive, a muti-day, sex-positive conference, with events running through May 10.

— Jen Colletta

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