Local and VCU

After 27 years in prison, Richmond man nears proof of innocence

Thomas E. Haynesworth hopes to return home soon from an errand he set off on 27 years ago as a teenager with no criminal record.

He was stopped by police Feb. 5, 1984, while walking to a store in Richmond’s East End for sweet potatoes and a loaf of bread. Within a year, he was serving 74 years for rapes and other attacks he has always denied committing.

Now prosecutors in Richmond and Henrico County are strongly backing an exoneration bid to be filed soon in the Virginia Court of Appeals in what appears to be one of the largest cases of misidentification yet documented in the United States.

Haynesworth, an inmate at the Greensville Correctional Center, said Monday that he is very hopeful. “I’m looking forward to being back with my family.” Arrested when he was 18, he has never had a chance to have children or even live on his own.

“I lost a lot of friends … a lot of family didn’t believe me,” said Haynesworth, the youngest of five children. “I thank God for my mother and my sisters. They’ve been my rock. They’ve been my foundation.”

His mother, Delores Haynesworth, 67, who sent Thomas out to get groceries for Sunday dinner almost three decades ago, never doubted his innocence. “I’m looking forward to him coming home,” she said.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Richmond officials seek zoning controls of private liquor stores

Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones wants the city to control the proliferation of liquor stores if the state gives up its monopoly on the sale of distilled spirits.

Jones and City Councilman Charles R. Samuels announced Wednesday that they would introduce Feb. 14 a proposed ordinance that would give the city zoning tools to manage the stores. The General Assembly is considering Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to privatize the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control, but action currently appears unlikely.

“Liquor stores seemed to be concentrated in impoverished neighborhoods,” Jones said.

If approved by the City Council, the proposed ordinance would:

– Include a definition for liquor stores to distinguish them from other retail stores, including ones that sell only beer and wine;

– Specify that retail liquor sales are permitted only with a conditional-use permit in certain districts. Sales would not be permitted in the residential, hotel-office and neighborhood commercial districts;

– Provide minimum conditions for the stores, including hours of operation, a prohibition of drive-through sales, and requirements for buffering, screening and landscaping.

The state operates about 11 liquor stores in Richmond, city officials said. If the stores are privatized, they would be required under the proposed ordinance to receive a conditional-use permit, but they would be exempt from the standards, meaning they would be allowed to have 100 percent of the floor space devoted to liquor sales.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Number of Richmond-area homeless children up by 21 percent since last year

This winter’s homeless count by a local nonprofit yielded a heartbreaking finding: The number of children living in Richmond-area homeless shelters is the highest in seven years.

Volunteers counted 159 homeless children last week, 28 more than a year ago.

The last time there were this many homeless children living in area shelters was 2004, when 161 children were counted, said Kelly King Horne, executive director of Homeward, a Richmond agency for homeless services that manages the survey.

Horne said she attributes the rise in homeless families to the economic situation. People without jobs eventually have to give up their housing, she said. The survey, released Tuesday, showed that the overall homeless population is up 9 percent from a year ago to 1,102 people.

The good news, she said, is that the children are not living on the streets or sleeping in cars. All are living with a parent or guardian in an emergency shelter, which tends to be 30 days, or a long-term shelter, which can be up to a year. All of the children are getting other services they need, such as transportation to school and medical attention.

“The bad news,” she said, “is they are in a shelter, which is not what any parent wants for their child.”

“We know a history of instability isn’t good. Children who are homeless … are more likely to be homeless as adults,” she said. “Ideally, we would prevent homelessness so children never have to go through that.”

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch

National and International

Punxsatawney Phil predicts early spring

The country’s most famous groundhog predicted an early spring Wednesday but wasn’t willing to go out on a limb to forecast whether his state’s Pittsburgh Steelers will win the Super Bowl.

Punxsutawney Phil emerged just after dawn on Groundhog Day to make his 125th annual weather forecast in front of a smaller-than-usual crowd in rural Pennsylvania who braved muddy, icy conditions to hear his handlers reveal that he had not seen his shadow.

Including Wednesday’s forecast, Phil has seen his shadow 98 times and hasn’t seen it just 16 times since 1887, according to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle, which runs the event. There are no records for the remaining years, though the group has never failed to issue a forecast.

Two years ago, Phil’s forecast also acknowledged the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII win the night before. This year, Sunday’s game was mentioned in the forecast but no winner was predicted between the Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, who meet in Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.

“The Steelers are going to the Super Bowl,” Mike Johnson, vice president of the Inner Circle, said just before the forecast was read, drawing cheers from the clearly partisan crowd gathered on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in this borough of about 6,100 residents some 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

The Groundhog Day celebration is rooted in a German superstition that says if a hibernating animal casts a shadow on Feb. 2, the Christian holiday of Candlemas, winter will last another six weeks. If no shadow was seen, legend said spring would come early.

Brief by The Associated Press

Mosque plot suspect planted bomb in airport in ’85

A California man accused of threatening to blow up a popular Detroit-area mosque has had several violent, unpredictable run-ins with the law dating back to the 1970s, including one in which he kidnapped his son from a foster home and crashed a plane while trying to get away.

Roger Stockham, 63, has twice been committed for psychiatric treatment by the courts, and his attorney, Mark Haidar, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that after meeting with Stockham earlier in the day, he came away worried about his client’s mental state.

“He indicated he never meant to hurt anyone at any time and had no intention of blowing up any mosque at any time,” Haidar said of Stockham, who has been living in Imperial Beach, Calif.

Stockham was arrested during a Jan. 24 traffic stop near the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, which is one of the nation’s largest mosques and serves the area’s huge Arab community. Police kept quiet about Stockham’s arrest for a week after consulting with Islamic leaders who were worried about possible copycat attempts.

Hours before his arrest, witnesses say Stockham sipped Scotch at a nearby sports bar and bragged about how he was going to cause a big explosion. Police say when the pulled him over, he was wearing a ski mask and had more than two dozen Class-C fireworks in his car, including M-80s, which are illegal in the state.

Brief by The Associated Press

Pro-Mubarak demonstrators call for stability

Thousands of Egyptians gathered in an upscale Cairo boulevard Wednesday to cheer on President Hosni Mubarak in their first mass counter-demonstration after more than a week of calls for him to resign.

Many praised Mubarak for keeping the country at peace after a series of wars with Israel. Others said they felt personally humiliated by anti-Mubarak demonstrators jeering a man they saw as a symbol of the nation.

The demonstration of the pro-Mubarak supporters was mostly peaceful, in contrast to the scene in Cairo’s main square, where hundreds of young pro-government supporters are attacking anti-government crowds

On the boulevard in the middle-class, heavily commercial neighborhood of Mohandiseen, men in designer sunglasses and women with expensive hairdos joined government employees, including a few dozen nurses in white dresses and stockings who jumped and chanted, “We love you Mubarak!” Younger men carried portraits of Mubarak and shouted in support. Children painted their faces with the black, white and red colors of the Egyptian flag.

Brief by The Associated Press

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