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Thursday, March 24, 2005; Page A05

Prison Journalist Faces $126,000 in Court Costs

NEW ORLEANS -- Former prison journalist Wilbert Rideau sought a plea agreement that would have avoided his high-profile murder trial in January. He may have to pay about $126,000 in court costs, anyway.

Defense lawyers are upset, arguing that the order in Lake Charles by District Judge David Ritchie could weaken America's system for defending the poor in court.

"I've been doing this 40 years, and I've never seen an indigent defendant hit with costs after the case, especially when he tried to plead guilty from the get-go," Julian Murray, one of Rideau's lawyers, said Wednesday. "And there are a lot of ramifications that go beyond our case."

Rideau's defense team plans to file an objection.

Murray said defense lawyers in general will be hesitant to accept poor clients if the courts, rather than reimbursing attorneys some of their costs, assign the bills to defendants who have no ability to pay.

Ritchie ruled Tuesday that Rideau, who spent more than 40 years in prison before his release on Jan. 15, must pay more than $60,000 in expenses incurred by the court and an additional $66,000 incurred for expert witnesses.

• PHOENIX -- A Native American veterans group awarded a "warriors medal of valor" to former POW Jessica Lynch in a ceremony on the mountain named after her best friend and fallen comrade, Army Spec. Lori Piestewa. The ceremony on Piestewa Peak marked the second anniversary of the ambush on a convoy in Iraq in which Piestewa was killed and Lynch was taken prisoner. Piestewa, a Hopi, is believed to be the first Native American woman killed while fighting for the U.S. military.

• CHICAGO -- The entrance exam given to applicants for the Chicago Fire Department in 1995 discriminated against blacks, a federal judge has ruled after a seven-year legal battle. A lawsuit filed by black applicants alleged that the exam's cutoff point for "well-qualified" applicants produced a pool of 1,782 candidates that had five times more whites than blacks. U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall said that the test "could not distinguish between those who were qualified for the position of [firefighter] and those who were not."

• HUNTSVILLE, Tex. -- Texas's highest appeals court stopped the scheduled execution of a man about five hours before he could have been put to death in the 1989 murder of a Fort Worth restaurant manager. Steven K. Staley, 42, won the reprieve after lawyers argued that instructions given to jurors at his 1991 trial were unclear when they were deciding whether he should get the death penalty. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals sent the case back to a trial court.

• BROCKTON, Mass. -- A priest was acquitted of raping a boy in a church office in the late 1980s. The Rev. John P. Lyons, 76, closed his eyes and bowed his head as the verdict was read. "I'm delighted," he said. His accuser, a 26-year-old former parishioner at St. Rose of Lima Church in Rochester, testified that Lyons molested him from 1987 until 1989.

• ORLANDO -- Seven children have contracted a life-threatening kidney infection that health officials said may be the result of a rare infection picked up at petting zoos. The condition -- hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS -- is a rare complication arising from an infection most commonly associated with E. coli, a bacterium found in contaminated food.

-- From News Services

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