News & Reviews

Issue: "Ken Starr: An honest cop," Nov. 13, 1999

Man knows not his time
The first time I saw Walter Payton in the locker room," said Fred O'Connor, then a Chicago Bears coach, "I thought God must have taken a chisel and said, 'I'm going to make me a halfback.'" And what a halfback He chiseled: Mr. Payton holds the National Football League record for career yards (16,726), number of games with at least 100 yards gained (77), and single-game yardage (275). He retired in 1988 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Walter Payton-"Sweetness," as he was known-died last week at age 45, from cancer of the bile duct and an immune system disorder called primary sclerosing cholangitis. Although Mr. Payton had been open about his faith in God, he was equally open about his fear of dying when he first announced he was sick. "Am I scared? Hell, yeah, I'm scared. Wouldn't you be scared?" he said through tears in February. "But it's not in my hands anymore. It's in God's hands." "I have never seen a person as at peace with himself as Walter Payton," said former Bears teammate Mike Singletary, who prayed with and read the Bible to Mr. Payton up to the last hour of his life. When he returned home from that final visit, Mr. Singletary told his wife: "He's leaving us and he's at peace." Mr. Payton's finest hours were his last, Mr. Singletary said: "I think outside of anything else I've ever seen-the greatest runs, the greatest moves-what I experienced this weekend was by far the best of Walter Payton that I've seen." Muslims mourn crash victims
Lost at sea
For a devout Muslim, one of the worst things you could hear about the death of a friend or relative is that the body is unrecoverable. Without a body, families cannot follow traditional Islamic death rites, including a ritualistic washing and shrouding of the body and quick burial. A body is typically prayed over and buried as part of a ceremony attended by an entire community. All of which helps explain the sobbing, screaming, and fainting of Muslim relatives after learning that U.S. authorities had little hope of finding intact bodies in the wreckage of EgyptAir Flight 990, which fell out of the sky about 30 minutes after taking off from New York's JFK airport. All passengers and crewmembers, 217 in all, perished in the crash last Sunday. It was the second jumbo jet disaster in as many years out of JFK; in 1998, 229 died when Swissair Flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia. Schools react to threats
Columbine II?
After last year's Columbine massacre, school officials across the country aren't taking chances with students who threaten violence. In Ponder, Tex., seventh-grader Christopher Beamon was arrested for writing an essay about shooting a teacher and two classmates. The teacher had assigned students to write a horror story and gave Christopher extra credit for reading his essay to the class. Parents of the students named as victims in the essay weren't amused, and Christopher spent five days in a juvenile detention center. In Cleveland, a high school closed on Friday, Oct. 29, after students alerted officials that four boys were planning a Homecoming Day rampage. The four suspects each pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, but police say they found a map detailing the boys' plans for shooting classmates and detonating explosive devices. Parents of the suspects said it was all a prank. The No-Comment Zone

  • "All too familiar" was the refrain on television news the day seven men were murdered at work, apparently by a colleague with a gun. Police say 40-year-old Byran Uyesugi, a Xerox technician who lived in a quiet neighborhood, literally on Easy Street, methodically gunned down seven co-workers, fled in a company vehicle, and held off police for five hours before being captured. The next day in Seattle, "all too familiar" became even more so. A camouflage-clad gunman wearing a dark overcoat, baseball cap, and sunglasses calmly entered the offices of a boat-repair company and opened fire, killing two and wounding two. He was not immediately captured.
  • Michael Domingues was 16 when he strangled a mother and stabbed to death her four-year-old son. His lawyers, citing an international treaty forbidding executions of under-18 murderers, said he should not have to die at the hand of a Nevada executioner. But President George Bush, when signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, had stated a "reservation" retaining the right of American governments to impose capital punishment as they wish, and the Senate ratified the treaty with that reservation in 1992. Lawyers for Mr. Domingues said that the Senate was not authorized to make a reservation that had "the effect of materially altering" the treaty, but the Supreme Court did not agree.
  • Wal-Mart flung a degrading World Wrestling Federation action figure out of the retail ring last week. The toy is modeled after Al Snow, a World Wrestling Federation star who as part of his shtick carries a female mannequin's head onto the wrestling stage. The wrestling doll carried a female doll's head with "Help Me" scrawled backward across its forehead. Sabrena Parton, a professor at Kennesaw State (Ga.) University, complained to the company, as did one Wal-Mart store manager, and they got action. The marketing guru for the WWF claimed not to comprehend the uproar. Said WWF's Jim Byrne: "Al Snow's act with the mannequin head is as silly as it gets-loads of fun."
  • The governor of Colorado, who late last month implied that the parents of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey might have been involved in her 1996 murder, intensified his war of words last week. "If they're innocent," Gov. Bill Owens said during a news conference, "they're sure not acting like they are." The governor has called on John and Patsy Ramsey to return to the state, to "quit hiding," and to cooperate with the investigation. In court, criminals play the victim
    Abuse excuse
    Defendants charged with violent crimes offered the "abuse excuse"-a term coined by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz-in separate incidents. An accused killer in Wyoming and a police officer who admitted to torturing a man believed to be a suspect in a crime both played the victim last week. In Wyoming, the second man charged with murdering homosexual Matthew Shepard attempted to employ the so-called "gay-panic" defense. Lawyers for Aaron McKinney claimed that their client's past experience as the victim of a homosexual assault-coupled with drug abuse-caused him to snap into a violent rage when Shepard indicated aggressively that he wanted sex. The judge said such a defense is prohibited in Wyoming. The jury didn't buy it, either, and convicted Mr. McKinney last week. In New York, the Brooklyn police officer who assaulted a supposedly uncooperative suspect with a broom handle said that "animal rage" brought on by constant exposure to the city's ugly underside caused him to torture Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. "I thought I was going to die that night," said Justin Volpe. "He punched me to the ground. I was the victim.... I would've accepted an excuse, an apology." Mr. Volpe, 27, pleaded guilty in May to federal charges in the assault of Mr. Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse. The officer's comments were included in defense papers asking a federal judge to spare him life in prison without parole at sentencing Dec. 6. Asked whether he was sorry, Mr. Volpe said: "My actions were wrong. I have to forgive him for what happened in the street and I hope he can forgive me one day for what happened in the bathroom." Federal judge: Ante up, New York taxpayers
    The show must go on
    Just one day before Hillary Clinton became a New York state taxpayer-she and husband Bill closed on their $1.7 million estate, which will cost the couple more than $2,000 a month in property taxes-a federal judge ruled that New Yorkers must continue funding the Brooklyn Museum of Art and its Catholic-bashing exhibit, "Sensation." New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Mrs. Clinton's likely opponent in a race for the Senate next year, shut off the $7.2 million taxpayer subsidy of the museum after "Sensation" arrived with its painting of the Virgin Mary that Mr. Giuliani decried as "sick." Judge Nina Gershon decried Mr. Giuliani as a threat to the First Amendment: "No federal constitutional issue [is] more grave than the effort by government officials to censor ... expression." Working in the museum's favor is the city's prior agreement to fund the museum; the money was yanked only after Hizzoner decided he didn't like the painting. That leaves one path of escape for freedom-loving New Yorkers: Cease all tax funding of all the arts, even the good stuff. Menem's party loses election
    Argentina takes a new course
    The party of Argentina's flamboyant president, Carlos Menem, lost national elections to the leftist Alliance party and its presidential candidate, Fernando de la Rua. The president-elect vowed to crack down on corruption and steer away from the free-market legacy of his 10-year predecessor. "You have elected a president who will put an end to privilege, especially the privilege of power," he told Argentinians. Mr. Menem moved Argentina away from the socialist and Marxist trend of many Latin American neighbors. Unlike his predecessors, he sided with Israel in UN debates and restored ties to the United States and Great Britain after the Falklands War. Argentina even joined the U.S. coalition against Iraq during the Gulf War. Last week he lashed out at Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon, who forced the detention of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet in London beginning over a year ago. On Nov. 2, Mr. Garzon issued international arrest warrants for leaders of Argentina's late 1970s "Dirty War." The outgoing president rejected the extradition of the junta leaders, because Argentina has already tried and jailed them, and he called the judge "a prima donna" infringing on the sovereignty of Latin American nations. Mr. Menem himself was held prisoner by the junta leaders, but pardoned them after he came to power in 1989. World in brief
    Clash closes border
    Russians vowed to take back Chechnya in an all-out assault on the republic. Escalation of fighting between Russian soldiers and Chechen rebels left terrified civilians trapped at border areas. Soldiers opened a key border crossing for only two days after stranding thousands of refugees at the Ingushetia crossing for more than a week. Border guards allowed 500 people an hour to cross from Chechnya into Ingushetia. In Moscow, police arrested a suspect they said was aligned with Chechen militants and charged him in apartment building bombings that left 300 people dead in Moscow. Persecution update
    Police arrested Chinese house church pastor Li De Xian for a third consecutive week. Authorities have detained the congregation leader in Guangzhou each time he arrives at the group's usual meeting place for worship on Tuesday. This time, the area surrounding the building was sealed off, and the congregation of about 100 held its service in a nearby orchard. Seven vehicles of armed Public Security Bureau officers arrived and led Mr. Li away, as church members sang the hymn "Calvary." Mr. Li was later released and not charged, but church leaders believe authorities are building a case against him. Indian police arrested another suspect in the murders of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons last January. The man police suspect of masterminding the attack, Dara Singh, remains at large, despite numerous sightings and a televised interview, all in recent months. The phone number for information on the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, as printed in Taking on the Thugs (Nov. 6), is incorrect. A toll free number is (888) 538-7772. Inquiries may also be made through the website Demonstrations mark anniversary of hostage crisis
    Burned-out celebration
    Twenty years after Iranian revolutionaries marched on the U.S. embassy and took 52 Americans hostage, the "Great Satan" remains a force to be reckoned with in the capital, Tehran. Street protestors celebrated the anniversary of the takeover by student activists and radical clerics with a state-sponsored rally in front of the former U.S. compound. Thousands of demonstrators turned out for the obligatory burning of the American flag and chanting of anti-American slogans. Iran's supreme leader and third ruling cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, denounced factions that seek reconciliation with the United States. But across town, at Tehran University, about 1,000 members of Iran's largest student movement, whose forerunners engineered the 444-day hostage crisis, rallied against violence and in support of a U.S.-Iran dialogue. The students now back moderate President Mohammad Khatami and the reformist cleric, Abdollah Nouri, a former vice-president on trial for political and religious dissent. "Relations with the United States is not a nightmare or an unreligious act, but at the same time re-establishing ties will not solve our problems overnight," said Hashem Aghajari. The founder of the student group that led the embassy takeover, Mr. Aghajari is less strident after 20 years' rule by Muslim clergy. "We must take a new look," he told the crowd.

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