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An elderly man who spent 24 years in prison for his daughter's death in a fire will remain free after a federal appeals court in Pennsylvania on Wednesday refused to reinstate his murder conviction.

Han Tak Lee, 80, a native of South Korea who earned U.S. citizenship, was exonerated and freed last year after a judge concluded the case against him was based on since-discredited scientific theories about arson. Prosecutors appealed, saying that other evidence pointed to his guilt.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal, meaning Lee will stay out of prison.

The New York City shop owner had taken his 20-year-old, mentally ill daughter to a religious retreat in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains where, prosecutors say, he set fire to their cabin. Lee has long contended the 1989 fire was accidental.

Lee, who returned to Queens after his release from prison, did not answer his phone Wednesday. He told The Associated Press in an interview last month that he still loved America and "I expect America to make the right decision."

His attorney, Peter Goldberger, called on prosecutors to let the ruling stand.

"I hope, now, that they will finally see there is no basis for this conviction," Goldberger said. "They can say it's nobody's fault, that science changed, that this is over now, and the federal court has had the last word."

Monroe County District Attorney David Christine, who prosecuted Lee in 1990 and whose office lost the appeal, did not immediately return a text and email seeking comment.


Pistorius prosecutors file appeal at Supreme Court

•  Court News     updated  2015/08/17 12:16

Prosecutors pushing for a murder conviction against Oscar Pistorius filed papers at South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal on Monday, four days before the Olympic runner is expected to be released from prison and moved to house arrest.

Court registrar Paul Myburgh confirmed the prosecution's papers had been filed. Lawyers for the double-amputee runner have until Sept. 17 to file their response ahead of a hearing in November.

Prosecutors want a panel of judges at the Supreme Court to overrule a decision by another judge to acquit Pistorius of murder for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013. Pistorius was instead found guilty of culpable homicide, or manslaughter, for shooting Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door in his home.

He was sentenced to five years in jail, but is expected to be released from the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in the South African capital Pretoria on Friday after serving 10 months of that culpable homicide sentence.

Because of his good behavior, the 28-year-old Pistorius can be released on probation to serve the remainder under house arrest.

Prosecutors announced their intention to appeal Judge Thokozile Masipa's decision shortly after Pistorius' months-long trial last year. They said Masipa made an error in interpreting the law when she cleared Pistorius of murder and found him guilty instead of an unintentional but still unlawful killing.

Quoting a section of South African law known as "dolus eventualis," prosecutors argue in their appeal papers that the former track star should be convicted of murder because he shot through the toilet door in the pre-dawn hours of Valentine's Day two years ago, knowing that whoever was behind the door would likely be killed without just cause.


Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.

Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.



Washington officials are considering a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court issued daily fines a of $100,000 until lawmakers comply with a court order to improve the way the state pays for its basic education system.
 
Thursday's order, signed by all nine justices of the high court, ordered that the fine start immediately, and be put into a dedicated education account.

The court encouraged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session, saying that if the Legislature complies with the court's previous rulings for the state to deliver a plan to fully fund education, the penalties accrued during a special session would be refunded.

Inslee and legislative leaders are set to meet Monday in Seattle discuss what next steps the state should take.

"There is much that needs to be done before a special session can be called," Inslee said in a statement. "I will ask lawmakers to do that work as quickly as humanly possible so that they can step up to our constitutional and moral obligations to our children and lift the court sanctions."

The ruling was the latest development in a long-running impasse between lawmakers and justices, who in 2012 ruled that the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to pay for the cost of basic education for its 1 million schoolchildren.

Thomas Ahearne, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the court's action "is long overdue."

"The state has known for many, many years that it's violating the constitutional rights of our public school kids," Ahearne said. "And the state has been told by the court in rulings in this case to fix it, and the state has just been dillydallying along."

The lawsuit against the state was brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and education groups — known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit.

In its original ruling, and repeated in later follow-up rulings, the justices have told the Legislature to find a way to pay for the reforms and programs they had already adopted, including all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, student transportation and classroom supplies, and to fix the state's overreliance on local tax levies to pay for education. Relying heavily on local tax levies leads to big disparities in funding between school districts, experts say.


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