Originally created 12/15/01

Across the Southeast



Retarded murderer gets reduced sentence

RALEIGH, N.C. -A killer on North Carolina's death row is the first in the state to have his sentence reduced under a new state law banning executions for the mentally retarded.

Sherman Elwood Skipper, 59, "was mentally retarded prior to and at the time of the commission of the capital offense which resulted in the imposition of death sentences," Superior Court Judge B. Craig Ellis said in reducing Skipper's sentence to two life terms.

The law requires that a prisoner have an IQ below 70 and show inability to adapt to society before age 18 before a court can declare him mentally retarded.

Mr. Skipper was convicted in the 1990 murders of his girlfriend, Aileane Pittman, and her grandson, Nelson Fipps Jr., in Bladenboro.

State asks court to allow VMI prayer

LYNCHBURG, Va. -A lawyer for the state told a federal judge Friday that Virginia Military Institute's evening dinner prayer is intended for development of military leaders, not for religious indoctrination.

Solicitor General William Hurd urged U.S. District Judge Norman Moon to declare VMI's daily prayer constitutional, arguing that court rulings against government-sanctioned prayers in public schools don't apply in VMI's case.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in May on behalf of cadets Neil Mellen of Los Angeles and Paul Knick of Woodbridge, who said officials of the state-supported university in Lexington rejected their complaints about the prayer.

Evening prayers have been a tradition at VMI since at least the 1950s.

Down-home radio ad angers governor

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -A new radio advertisement by business groups says Gov. Don Siegelman "must be crazier than a sprayed roach" for advocating $160 million in taxes on businesses.

The ad comes as the Legislature, in a special session to fix a shortfall in funds for public schools, works on a compromise over raising taxes for businesses.

In the Business Associations' Tax Coalition ad, two beer-drinking buddies at the Talladega race track are talking about how Mr. Siegelman's tax plan would make attending the races unaffordable.

Mr. Siegelman said the ads "are insulting the intelligence of the people of this state."

Karen Cartee, an expert in political advertising at the University of Alabama, agreed. "They're saying Alabamians do not care about anything other than beer, shotgun shells and NASCAR," she said.