Judge bars statements made at AA meetings

Judge bars statementsmade at AA meetings
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- A federal judge overturned a manslaughter conviction, saying conversations among Alcoholics Anonymous participants should not have been used as evidence because such exchanges are a form of confidential religious communication.
U.S. District Judge Charles Brieant said treating AA meetings with less protection than any other form of religious communication, which carries assurances of confidentiality, is unconstitutional.
The entire AA relationship, he wrote, "is anonymous and confidential."
Paul Cox, 33, had been convicted of two counts of manslaughter for stabbing to death Laksman Rao Chervu and his wife, Shanta, in their home in 1988. Cox said he was in an alcoholic stupor when he broke into the home, where he had lived as a child. He did not know the couple.
His trial featured testimony -- some obtained by subpoena -- from AA members who said Cox had discussed memories of the stabbings.
Cox was sentenced to a minimum of 16 years in prison. He appealed, saying his statements to fellow AA members were confidential and should not have been admitted as evidence.
Brieant said a federal appeals court held in 1999 "that AA is a religion." In his ruling Tuesday, Brieant said that, based on AA being considered a religion, disclosures of wrongs to fellow members should be protected by "a privilege granted to other religions similarly situated."
Coast Guard searchesfor missing Cubans
MIAMI -- Coast Guard crews searched the rough seas off Key West early today for a woman and three young children who were thrown into the water when a speedboat smuggling Cubans into the United States capsized.
Twenty-two people were rescued early Wednesday after a passing freighter's crew heard screams from the dark sea. Two others died. One body was recovered, the other was spotted by a Coast Guard helicopter but sank before a cutter could arrive.
The survivors were spotted 17 miles southeast of Key West by crew members of the 210-foot coastal freighter Claudia C. The crew pulled 14 people out of the water before two Coast Guard cutters arrived to help.
The children still missing are all under age 6.
"We'll continue to search, although conditions look like they are getting worse. When there isn't bright sunlight the seas are dark, and it's hard to see bobbing heads in the water," Coast Guard spokesman Luis Diaz said.
Mom accused of lockingkids inside storage unit
CASSELBERRY, Fla. -- A family lived two months in a 12-by-20-foot storage unit without running water or air-conditioning and the mother locked the children inside while she worked, police said.
Adrianne Tijuana Johnson, 29, was charged with two counts of child abuse and one count of animal cruelty after her 8-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter and the family dog were found Wednesday. "I had no other choice than to leave my children by themselves," Johnson said while being led away.
Police said they didn't know how often or for how long the children were locked inside the unit.
The manager of the self-storage lot found the children after hearing the dog bark.
Johnson told police she was a nurse at an Orlando hospital, but the hospital said she does not work there and the state showed no professional license issued under her name.
Temperatures inside would have approached 100 degrees. Police found half-empty juice bottles for the children and water in a bowl for the dog.
Navy exercises resumein spite of protests
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico -- Battleships took their positions for a fresh round of U.S. Navy exercises today despite pleas from politicians and residents to stop using the outlying island of Vieques as a target.
Environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who served 30 days in prison for trespassing on federal land during an attempt to stop the Navy exercises in April and May, said he was embarrassed by the Navy's actions.
Kennedy, whose father and uncle -- President John F. Kennedy -- served in the Navy during World War II, was freed Wednesday from a federal prison outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico. He immediately flew to Vieques.
"I grew up with the Navy and it's been painful for me to oppose a service that was really an icon of my childhood," said Kennedy.
The exercises, which could last until Aug. 10, are to include ship-to-shore maneuvers, air-to-ground shelling and amphibious landings.

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