Bishop Sends Nuns Packing,
Fixes Up Convent for Himself
In a self-proclaimed effort to elevate the status of Long Island's Catholic church, Bishop William Murphy has moved into a 5,000-square-foot home with nearly $1 million in new renovations and furnishings.
The bishop, who moved from the Boston Archdiocese last year, said that he required more space to entertain. He declined to move into a newly redecorated rectory -- he didn't want to disrupt the priests. Murphy had his eye on the convent next door, a drafty space not upgraded since the 1930s that required no commute to the cathedral. Murphy asked the six remaining nuns -- including two elderly sisters -- to find a new home.
"The sisters, I think, were disappointed but a disappointment they expressed with great generosity," Murphy told Newsday.
In the nuns' place, the bishop ordered a suite with a bedroom, marble bath, sitting room and study. The public spaces feature Oriental rugs protecting restored oak floors, an antique reproduction table and a Baker bar cabinet. Its gleaming kitchen has a six-burner Viking stove, Sub-Zero refrigerator and temperature-controlled wine cabinet holding 50 bottles.
The renovations have given columnist and Catholic Church curmudgeon Jimmy Breslin endless story fodder. He branded the convent "mansion Murphy" and warned readers "when you go past St. Agnes, clutch your purse or keep your hands in your pockets." The mansion could host Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, who worked with Murphy through the sex abuse scandals, Breslin speculated.
-- Christine Haughney
Snack Attacks Break the Bank
For Florida Prison Inmates
Prison is no place for a junk food hound.
The typical fare does little to satisfy those inevitable cravings for sugary indulgences and late-night snack attacks. So it is with some degree of urgency that many inmates monitor the balances in their "canteen" accounts in Florida state prisons.
The accounts, which are stocked with deposits by friends and relatives, can be used by inmates to buy items from a pre-approved list. Inmates can order up a Klondike bar, if they're in the mood, or maybe a bag of Jolly Ranchers, or even something called a "jalapeno cheese squeezer," whatever that is.
Almost all inmates have a canteen account. But, for a year, dozens of inmates at three of Florida's toughest prisons kept a dirty secret about their accounts. It seems that an extra $200 was appearing in their accounts out of nowhere.
Being criminals, they did what you might expect criminals to do. They took the money and spent it.
It went on for more than 10 gloriously sugary months, months when countless sticks of chocolate and bags of chips were consumed. The windfall went to the maximum-security cells and even to death row. But, like everything that seems too good to be true, the jailhouse banquet came to an end.
Another group of inmates started complaining. These inmates were ending up with smaller balances than they were supposed to have. Prison officials started digging around and soon discovered that a glitch in a new computer system intended to streamline canteen accounting mucked up the accounts at Florida State Prison in Starke, Union Correctional Institution in Raiford and Martin Correctional Institution in Indiantown.
The bean counters are still sorting out the mess. But, as best they can tell, more than 180 inmates received inflated balances and spent more than $81,000 that didn't belong to them. The prisons are trying to recoup their losses by seizing new money coming into the accounts.
"We're kind of like MasterCard and Visa," said Corrections Department spokesman Sterling Ivey. "We'll put a hold on their accounts."
-- Manuel Roig-Franzia
The Bridges of Madison County
Are Burning; No Arsonist Caught
An arsonist may be targeting the bridges of Madison County.
The bucolic bridges in rural Iowa became a cultural phenomenon thanks to Robert Waller's 1992 novel "The Bridges of Madison County" and the 1995 movie of the same name. There are festivals and photographers celebrating the covered bridges, but only one was suitable for vehicle traffic.
It was that one, the 199-year-old, famed Cedar Bridge, featured on the book's cover, that was set ablaze last month. Ever since, people have been wondering who and why.
"Right now I wouldn't say we could look at any one individual," said Madison County Sheriff Paul Welch.
In 1983 a local man burned down the McBride bridge, but Welch said that crime is completely unrelated to the recent arson.
"He was dating a married lady and she went back to her husband," Welch said. "So he took some accelerant to the bridge and tried to burn out the place where they had carved their initials. He didn't intend to burn the whole bridge down."
Waller has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. But the sheriff said none of the tips have been worth pursuing.
The Cedar Bridge was one of six remaining covered bridges. The Madison County Preservation Association has launched a drive to raise the estimated $1 million needed to restore the bridge.
"Their intent is to make sure it is restored as it was, so that people can see what it feels like to drive over a covered bridge," Welch said.
-- Kari Lydersen
To Sleep, Perchance to Rule:
Tex. Judge Faces Nap Attack
For the second time in two years, a federal appeals court has ruled that falling asleep in the courtroom is not a good thing.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that Judge John Bradshaw could not have effectively weighed testimony in Ty Patrick Turner's Dallas trial because he fell asleep during key testimony. The court upheld a two-year prison sentence related to the murder charge, but reversed a 20-year sentence Bradshaw handed down for probation violations.
Turner was convicted in 2001 of criminally negligent homicide in the 2000 death of Kimberly Hanson Maddux, 32.
The judge could not be reached for comment, but told the Dallas Morning News he didn't remember falling asleep.
"Frankly, I'm not going to dispute the word of the attorneys involved, but this hasn't happened before, nor do I have any reasonable expectation of it happening again," Bradshaw told the newspaper.
Two years ago, the same appeals court reversed the conviction of Calvin Burdine because his court-appointed attorney fell asleep several times during his 1984 capital murder trial in Houston. Burdine was granted a new trial, which has yet to begin.
University of Texas law professor Susan Klein said she hasn't seen endemic sleeping in Texas courtrooms, but it is "more common than it should be."
-- Amanda Zamora
Permanent Peace May Flow
In a California Water War
One of the West's most important water wars came to a peaceful end this past week.
Farmers in California's Imperial Valley, who have long grown great multitudes of crops on desert land with the help of the Colorado River, have agreed to give up some of their precious supply of water to keep spigots flowing to millions of residents in and around San Diego.
The shift is a sign of the times in the West, which is facing new pressure to divert its limited water supplies from rural, agricultural areas to its ever more populated urban regions.
The tentative deal, brokered after months of contentious negotiation, will pay farmers losing water not to grow some crops. It will also allow California to stop taking more than its share of water from the Colorado River for its expanding cities and suburbs in the nick of time. Federal officials had set an end-of-the year deadline for the state to break its old habit of using more water than it is entitled to -- and even threatened to cut off some of its allotment from the vital river.
For decades, California has had it both ways: It could swipe extra water from the river for farmers and cities with little objection because neighboring states that also rely on that supply did not need much.
But they do now. Arizona and Nevada are the fastest-growing states in the country. And their biggest urban centers are in deserts.
Robert M. Hertzberg, ex-speaker of the California Assembly, called the new agreement a landmark step that will bring a "lasting peace to the river."
"This is a measure that will last 75 years," he said. "It's not a quick fix."
-- Rene Sanchez