Springfield black church fire was set, but scant proof of hate crime
SPRINGFIELD — Investigators say a fire that destroyed a church that was being built for a predominantly black congregation was intentionally set.
But they said last Saturday that there’s no evidence the arson was a hate crime, except for the timing of the fire hours after the nation elected its first black president.
The findings were announced at a news conference attended by local, state and federal safety officials, including state Fire Marshal Stephen Coan.
The fire early last Wednesday destroyed the Macedonia Church of God in Christ’s new building, which was scheduled to open in a few months. Damage was estimated at $2 million.
The church’s pastor, Bishop Bryant Robinson, has vowed that the congregation would rebuild.
WORCESTER — Worcester officials say the city has spent more than $1.5 million in the past two years responding to public safety incidents involving college students, and some say it’s about time the colleges pay up.
A report prepared by the city manager went before the city council on Monday night. The report was expected to bolster the arguments of some councilors who want colleges and other tax-exempt institutions to make voluntary payments to the city for the municipal services they receive.
The issue is important more than ever because of the economic downturn.
Joseph Mikielian, the city’s commissioner of inspectional services, calls the $1.5 million figure “conservative.”
Police alone made more than 1,300 responses to colleges and fraternities between November 2006 and Oct. 31.
AG Coakley argues before Supreme Court on lab reports
WASHINGTON — Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley made her first appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, arguing in a case to decide whether prosecutors can use crime lab reports as evidence without having the forensic analyst who prepared them testify.
The reliability of crime labs has been questioned in recent years.
The case involves Luis Melendez-Diaz, convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which he was riding.
Melendez-Diaz argued that he should be allowed to question the person who prepared it about testing methods, how the evidence was preserved and other issues.
A brief supporting Melendez-Diaz points to problems at the Massachusetts state lab.
Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a law enacting emergency budget cuts, but he also vetoed a reduction in a pet project.
The volunteer-promoting Commonwealth Corps will be cut from $3 million to $2.5 million. The state Legislature wanted to cut it all the way down to $500,000.
Patrick says he already reduced his budget by 11 percent to help cope with a $1 billion budget shortfall. He thinks sharply cutting a program promoting volunteerism “is neither necessary nor wise.”
The governor did agree to another sizable cut: $10 million from his life sciences bond program. It’s providing $1 billion over 10 years for biotech work, or $100 million a year.
Patrick announced the cuts late last Friday.
Lawmakers voted to cut about $73.6 million in spending, transfer up to $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund and delay payments to the state pension fund. They also added a two-month state tax amnesty plan and extended until Dec. 1 the deadline for cities and towns who want to join the state’s group health insurance plan to save costs.
Bay State marijuana law advocates aiming higher
With a big win at the state level behind them, advocates for marijuana decriminalization are aiming for changes in federal law.
Massachusetts voters last Tuesday approved a law that punishes people caught with less than an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine, rather than a criminal penalty.
Now local advocates point to a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, which would decriminalize possession of marijuana in amounts of 3.5 ounces or less anywhere in the country.
Keith Stroup of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said he hopes the bill can lead to hearings and spark more support from lawmakers.
But Frank told The Boston Globe he doesn’t see his bill passing anytime soon because his fellow lawmakers aren’t yet ready to take a stand on the issue.