The week at a glance...United States
Maricopa County, Ariz. Prison diet: At least 38 male inmates in the Maricopa County jail system were put on a weeklong diet of bread and water last week as punishment for defacing American flags placed in their jail cells. Inmates destroyed the flags, said controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “tearing them, writing on them, stepping on them, throwing them in the toilet” or in the trash. “It’s a disgrace.” The flags were part of a patriotic push by Arpaio, who currently controls the jail system; inmates are also required to listen to “The Star-Spangled Banner” every morning and “God Bless America” every night over the intercom system. Known for his headline-grabbing punishments, Arpaio has previously issued pink underwear to inmates and removed salt and pepper from their meals. In May, a court ruled that his office routinely racially profiled Latino motorists during traffic and immigration patrols.
Fort Worth Life support withdrawn: A brain-dead pregnant woman kept on life support against her family’s wishes was disconnected from her ventilator this week, two days after a judge ordered the action on the grounds that she was deceased. The ruling ended a wrenching court fight between John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth and the family of Marlise Muñoz, a paramedic who was 14 weeks pregnant when she collapsed in November and lapsed into a brain-dead state. Muñoz’s husband, Erick, said she didn’t want to be kept on life support and family lawyers said medical records showed the fetus was “distinctly abnormal,” but hospital officials said Texas law required them to keep pregnant patients on life support. After the ruling, the family said it would “now proceed with the somber task of laying Marlise Muñoz’s body to rest and grieving over the great loss that has been suffered.”
Richmond, Va. Gay marriage: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring outraged Republicans last week by refusing to defend the state’s ban on gay marriage on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Instead, Herring announced he would be supporting the same-sex couples who have filed lawsuits against the ban. That major shift came less than two weeks after Herring started the job—and just days before a judge was scheduled to begin hearing oral arguments on the law. In response, a House committee passed a measure that would give each member of the General Assembly the right to intervene in cases where the governor and attorney general fail to defend Virginia law. “The attorney general has a constitutional and statutory obligation to enforce and defend the duly adopted laws and Constitution of Virginia,” said William J. Howell, the Republican speaker of the Virginia House. “This is not an obligation that can be taken lightly.”
Washington, D.C. Farm compromise: The House of Representatives passed a new $1 trillion farm bill this week, a major step toward ending two years of bipartisan fighting over the legislation. The bill, worked out by House and Senate negotiators, cuts about $8 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade and eliminates dozens of agricultural subsidy programs—including controversial direct payments given to farmers and landowners whether or not they grow crops. Those funds would be directed toward the expansion of government-subsidized crop insurance. The House rejected an earlier version of the bill in June, when conservatives said the cuts to food stamps weren’t deep enough—and that bill had more than double the cuts to food stamps of this week’s compromise bill. The Senate was expected to take up the bill this week.
Columbia, Md. Mall shooting: A 19-year-old armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and “a large amount of ammunition” opened fire at a shopping mall last week, killing two people before turning the gun on himself. Investigators this week said they were still trying to determine the motive of shooter Darion Marcus Aguilar, a manager at Dunkin’ Donuts whose body was found near his two victims, along with a backpack containing two homemade explosive devices. Aguilar didn’t have a criminal record or a known relationship to Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, the two employees at the Zumiez skateboard store shot dead by Aguilar. However, a journal turned over to investigators by his mother indicates some “general unhappiness with his life,” authorities said.
New York City Cold-case breakthrough: An arrest has finally been made in the notorious 1978 Lufthansa heist—the single biggest cash robbery in U.S. history, and the inspiration for the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas. Vincent Asaro, 78, a reputed capo of the Bonanno organized crime family of New York, was arrested last week in a predawn raid by the FBI. He has been charged with being part of the group of masked gunmen who, aided by a Lufthansa worker, seized about $6 million in cash and jewels from a cargo building at JFK airport. The crime went unsolved for four decades, until the FBI decided in June to search the former home of the late James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke, the alleged mastermind of the heist. That search apparently led them to Asaro, who authorities said had even in recent months been continuing his “ruthless ways” and “mob business.”