Friday, February 29, 2008

Arshinkoff get hits with jab .. after last week's cross

Mark the day February 29th on your political history calendar. Leap day is one thing .. but Alex Arshinkoff will be remembering this date for another reason altogether.

After the Secretary of State failed to renew AA to the Summit County Board of Elections -- a role he's held for 30 years -- AA had just a week's time to come up with a suggested replacement no later than today. AA and the GOP leadership recommended Brian Daley but today learned that Brunner shot him down as well .. and with time running out, she chose her own replacement -- Donald Varian (pictured right).

Now .. there's NO way to say politics aren't at play here. If you read my blog from Monday night, you'll see that I was noting Varian's role in the "New Summit Republicans" so for Brunner -- a Democrat -- to suddenly choose Varian like he's some random elephant roaming the wild fails the common sense test.

State Senator Kevin Coughlin, whose been leading the NSR charge to oust AA from the party leadership, has already sent out a release tonight telling the press how pleased he is with Brunner's decision. Think Coughlin knew it was coming?

The Plain Dealer took a hard look at the political torpedoes Brunner's been firing in today's story, highlighting that AA wasn't the only GOP player crying "you sank my battleship."

With an election set for Tuesday, and central committee seats up for grabs, the entire GOP landscape seems like it's suffered an earthquake. I'm just not sure whose going to be left standing when the shaking stops.

Sewers for Scholarships discussion provides additional details on project

I wrote down about 12 questions in preparation for today's interview with Mayor Plusquellic for NewsNight Akron (9 p.m. tonight on PBS45/49) but I only got to ask about four. I shouldn't have been surprised. The Mayor typically covers a lot of ground in a short period of time and he covered pretty much everything in my question list without me even asking.

I did get to ask a few questions that some of you emailed to me so thanks to those of you who sent them in.

The topic: "Sewers for Scholarships" .. or whatever humorous name you've heard around town. Plusquellic has heard em all since he unveiled the idea 22 days ago at his State of the City speech.

At the Feb. 7th address, he briefly outlined the need for affordable higher education so that more local kids can get to college .. and his plan, known as the "Akron Plan," is to help them by paying the tuition for Akron Public School grads to attend the U of A by selling/leasing our sewer system for more than $100 million.

Got it? You with me? Clear as mud?

The idea certainly got the community's attention .. with tons of follow-up questions and comments ... and plenty of folks wanting to know more .. and wanting to know if it's really that easy.

So I invited the Mayor to come on NNA and talk about the idea in detail. He sat down with Steve Hoffman of the Beacon Journal and me a short time ago and the 30 minutes just flew by as we talked about what the program could do for Akron .. and how reasonable it is to think that something like our sewers can actually fund it. Is it really that easy?

Plusquellic is quite candid with his descriptions .. and he provides a better outline of how he envisions the program working. He's also up front that there's a lot of work to do to make the program a reality, specifically forming two community groups. One would research the sewer lease options, and the other would develop and research the educational funding part.

The most significant aspect that the Mayor shared today that I hadn't heard until now, is the obligation those who use the program would have to Akron for receiving their free college scholarship. I won't give away the goods here .. but let's just say that dollar-for-dollar the city wouldn't be asking very much compared to what it would provide in the form of free tuition at the U of A. Trust me, it's nothing compared to taking out a $40K loan and paying it back with interest .. at least, as it sounds right now.

The show airs tonight at 9 p.m. .. and again in the middle of the morning. If you miss it .. or just want to see it again .. the show will be available after 10 p.m. tonight at http://www.pbs4549.org/ in the video on demand section.

Does Plusquellic answer every question and every detail about a plan that could redefine our community and its young people? Nope .. not enough time for that. But our discussion does continue to raise interest in what could be a way to better educate our young people and bring new families to town.

I welcome your comments after it airs ... Eric

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thanks for support and patience

Thanks for all the of the emails .. many of you with questions about the Cutts trial . .and others with questions for the Friday's NewsNight Akron taping with Mayor Plusquellic. If you have a question for him about the sewers-for-scholarships program, it's not too late .. but post it quickly.

I've been living at the Stark County Courthouse much of the week and away from all my work in the office .. so I've spent the day catching up which is why I haven't added anything today ... also, my apologies to anyone who came for Wednesday Webchat .. I was logging on remotely from our satellite truck in Canton ... but couldn't conduct webchat. We'll be back at it next week.

I've been summarizing my notes from the entire Cutts/Davis case .. and will have a few tidbits for everyone later tonight or tomorrow ..

Thanks again for stopping by ... and taking the time to share of yourselves here on the blog.

Eric

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Goodnight Blake ...

Dear Blake,

Hi there little guy .... I hope you're able to get some sleep tonight but I know it might tough. Something tells me that all the relatives around you will probably have one of the worst nights of their lives.

You've probably gotten a lot of extra hugs over the last few weeks .. and probably had quite a few aunts and grandparents tearing up while they squeeze you. It's all OK ... they just love you so much and having you there to hug has helped them cope with some pretty tough stuff.

What you may not realize is that all of the tension and the wildness is somewhat over.

Tomorrow, your family has to begin the first day of the rest of their lives. The first day in months without a court date on the calendar. The first day without calls to people we call lawyers. The first day of not looking over their shoulders to see if people like me are knocking on the doors with cameras. The first day of just trying to live again.

That's why so many in your family will be crying themselves to sleep tonight .. even though you may not understand why.

When my brother was murdered 20+ years ago, I remember that the night his killer was sentenced was one of the worst. Just like your relatives, it was a night I cried myself to sleep too .. knowing that there was no longer some court date or hearing or legal interview to do. I no longer could hide my feelings by distracting myself with the legal process, I just had to move on with my life -- without my brother. Now, it's your family's turn to face that same hard reality .. and it's just awful.

Your mom's sister broke my heart today when she said that you often ask to go to heaven to visit your mother. I wish it was that simple. I wish I could make that happen even for a few minutes. No one your age should have to grow up without his mommy AND now your daddy too.

Blake, you're going to hear a lot about your father in the days, months, and years to come. I can't offer much help for the hole you'll feel because he's not around to wrestle with you and help you grow, but I pray that an uncle, or a grandfather, or a good family friend or coach steps forward to become a father-figure for you. It's tough out there for little guys like you .. and "guy time" is important.

Most importantly, just because your father's not there to be a man in your life, doesn't mean you can't become a strong man, a loving husband, and a devoted father some day.

Your grandma Patty is a strong lady. Strong enough to not only love and protect you, but to show a forgiveness and a faith that few could do. She says it's God's work through her, and I believe it. She's a special lady and she loves you very much.

To be honest Blake, I hope we never have to meet. I hope you're able to grow up with some sense of privacy .. and away from the media spotlight that's so much of the job I have. I hope that the next time I see the name "Blake Davis" is when I'm reading a newspaper 20 years from now when you're graduating from college and ready to change the world.

I hope that the tears you're seeing and feeling all over your house tonight are eased in the days to come. I hope that your family can find a "new normal" while missing your mom so much.

Sleep well little Blake ... and hug that stuffed animal tight. Just know that for every tear you shed while missing your mommy, there's a tear from heaven from a mommy missing you too.

Goodnight.

Cutts jury ... day two ... all quiet ...

It's been a morning of silence ... the media spending its time avoiding boredom.

We've shared stories of the business, talked about last night's debate for hours, compared notes on the old "Electric Company" show from PBS, and watched SNL sketches on our laptops.

That's what WE are doing ..

What the jury is doing, we just don't know yet. No word from anyone. No questions to the judge. No sounds whatsoever. It's really not much of a surprise. Jurors weren't in a hurry during the trial phase, so why should we expect anything different?

At lunch today, Prosecutor Dennis Barr was seated at a table at the same restaurant that a lot of the media frequented. Around 12:30, a national cable news network began playing video of the Cutts trial as a "Death Penalty Watch" banner was on the screen. It was odd to watch Barr's face as he was watching the national news coverage. Here's little ol' Canton .. right on the national stage.

The wait continues .. Eric

Mayor Plusquellic's sewer plan ... your turn

Hi all .. another morning at the Stark County Courthouse awaiting a recommendation from the Bobby Cutts jury has me looking forward to Friday's one-on-one with Mayor Pluquellic on NewsNight Akron.

I asked the Mayor to come on the show after his State of the City address to discuss a number of his initiatives, specifically the sewers for scholarships proposal. Steve Hoffman and I will spend the entire show Friday discussing these topics in depth with Mayor Plusquellic.

That's where you come in:


video

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cutts jurors prepare for first night in a hotel

Well .. the patience jurors in the Bobby Cutts murder trial took two weeks ago in determining his guilt has continued with his penalty phase.

Jurors began deliberating around 10 a.m. today; they must decide if Bobby Cutts deserves the death penalty or life in prison and then make their recommendation to Judge Charles Brown.

Two weeks ago, this jury spent three nights sequestered in a hotel before reaching their decisions on the fourth day of deliberations.

Now, we're told the judge intends to send them to the hotel in about 45 minutes (5:30 p.m.) and is already making preparations for deliberations to continue tomorrow.

I put together a story for tonight's 6 and 6:30 p.m. newscasts based on the closing arguments ... and knowing all along that if a verdict came in this afternoon, the story I'd composed would never see the light of day. Yet, if it the quiet of the courthouse holds true for a little while longer, my pre-planning will have paid off.

Bobby Cutts' family has already left for the night ... so they must feel there won't be a verdict coming today. Stay tuned. EM

"Justice for Jessie" as closing arguments offer fireworks

I left early enough to push through the snow and get to the Stark County Courthouse for closing arguments this morning. As drama goes, this morning didn't disappoint.

Both sides cut right to the chase.

Prosecutor Dennis Barr mocked Cutts' tearful testimony yesterday. He told jurors that "Bobby Cutts said he would do anything to bring back Jessie and Chloe. (Looking over to Cutts) Really Bobby? Really?"

Cutts didn't react from his seat, but the words were certainly a verbal dagger.

Barr went on to slice and dice additional verbal slams ... including telling jurors that while Cutts accepted responsibility and apologized, "what else is he going to do? He's trying to save his life."

Defense attorneys layed out a common theme that Blake still needs to see his father someday, even from behind bars. They also urged jurors not to kill Blake's father when his mother is already dead.

Their secondary argument weighed on the idea that Bobby's total life of 30 years should be used to judge his character and not the 10 days in June when he committed these crimes.

Judge Charles Brown delivered about 30 minutes of instructions before letting jurors begin to deliberate around 10:05 a.m. The alternate jurors have been released from the proceedings now.

The gallery includes family members from both sides, but it's not as crowded as the verdict 10 days ago.

The most emotional moment of the morning came after nearly everyone had left the courtroom. Ned Davis, Jessie's father, engaged in a long hug with Bobby's mother. Both cried. From the looks on their faces, no words were needed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"New Summit Republicans" smelling blood in the water

I had a chance to listen in on tonight's rally-in-the-valley with the "New Summit Republicans."

I observed from the back of the packed room as this group of political pirates shared attack strategies to sink the schooner of long-time GOP boss Alex Arshinkoff. OK, well .. maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration .. but you get the point. This group smells blood in the local waters .. and are trying to see if they have enough sharks in the tank to reform their party to include a new pirate ship captain.

The NSR are led by State Senator Kevin Coughlin, whose staking a big chunk of local political muscle on this coup de ta. If he succeeds, he'll help reshape the party with a new leader and tremendous local party influence.

If Coughlin fails, AA will likely never forgive KC for going "against the family" .. much the way Michael had Fredo taken out into the boat at the end of Godfather II.

If anything, I was impressed that tonight's rally didn't become a mob scene of pitch forks and torches. Those who were there seemed genuinely interested in what Coughlin and others were preaching .. trying to determine if taking sides is the right move at the right time.

I noticed Bryan Williams in the crowd. The Director of the Board of Elections is often seen as an AA supporter within political circles so seeing him at a NSR gathering wasn't what I expected.

I also saw respected local attorney Don Varian close by as Coughlin was speaking to the crowd of 100+. A few political pundits have told me that Coughlin sees Varian as the candidate to succeed AA as party chair .. but I didn't see DV take any kind of role in the rally, at least while I was there.

There's still a long way to go as the local GOP looks to reshape itself .. but regardless of whether or not there's change at the top of the local leadership, the positive energy from tonight's meeting should provide some positive wind in the sails of a group of swimmers that's for several years have often been fed to the sharks.

Cutts uses six minutes to apologize, beg for his life

Bobby Cutts boiled the argument of his life down to six minutes. He cried as a he read from a prepared statement in which he asked for forgiveness from Jessie Marie Davis' parents as well as Myesha Ferrell for "dragging her into my nightmare." He also said he was sorry for leaving Blake alone at home.

Six minutes .... 360 seconds ...

Prosecutors called no witnesses offering only an opening statement that Cutts deserved the maximum penalty for such a heinous crime. At a minimum, we had anticipated hearing from Jessie's mother and at least one medical expert on the amount of time it took for baby Chloe to die after Jessie had been killed. Yet, we had none of that.

Instead, the defense rolled along with tearful testimony from each of Bobby's parents along with friends and colleagues who all describe Cutts as a good guy who made a horrible decision.

Why the prosecution called off the dogs I have no idea ... although there is much speculation. Usually, any time the prosecution puts down its guns even when there's still ammo on the chamber revolves around the wishes of the victim's family. I'm not saying there is any evidence that Jessie's family asked prosecutors to back off at the penalty phase, but that's typically been the case at other trials I've covered.

And in the end .. it came down to those six minutes. His crying voice was heard as testimony not given under oath -- it's a legal maneuver that protected Cutts from cross-examination.

Jurors begin deliberating tomorrow ... and as I mentioned earlier today (see previous blog posting), there's no telling how fast or slow they'll come to a decision. Prosecutors have already announced that they will hold a press conference in the prosecutor's office 45 minutes after the verdict is read -- whenever that may be.

Still, you can bet those six minutes will be a key factor in making this decision. Life? or death? Everyone has talked about this moment for so long; now finally on Tuesday, 12 real people will have to make a real decision about what should happen to Bobby Cutts.

You can bet they'll spend more than six minutes thinking about their choice ... and the rest of their lives replaying how they made it.

Most think jurors should sentence Bobby Cutts to die

The poll was unscientific, unchecked, and unusual .. but the question was simple: "should jurors give Bobby Cutts the death penalty?"

31 voted "yes" while 18 voted "no". That's roughly 64-36 .. which would be a landslide if this were a Presidential primary ... but I can't tell if Obama or Clinton actually took the time to vote.

The one thing I found this week is that everyone does have an opinion here. Many shared with me what they thought they would do if on the jury .. and usually followed it by what they thought this jury will do.

A man at church told me that he doesn't believe in the death penalty but it wouldn't surprise him if the jurors in this case voted to recommend a death sentence.

Among the emails I received:

"The fact that he is EVEN eligible for the death penalty - is so upsetting. NO he should not get the death penalty."

"He needs to be put to death. To kill your son's mother in front of the child and leave him alone for more than 24 hours is not someone who deserves to live. Why should my tax money support this loser for life."

"As much of a scumbag I think he is, I still oppose giving him 'the needle' at Lucasville."


Others wrote that if ever someone deserved the DP, it's Cutts. Of those who felt that way, some admit that while they feel he deserves to die for his crimes, they'd have a tough time signing their names recommending it.

I wonder if the votes would have been different had I worded the poll "would YOU give Bobby Bobby Cutts the DP?" or "WILL jurors give Bobby Cutts the DP?"

If nothing else, the last 10 days since Cutts was found guilty of aggravated murder have given us all a chance to weigh our thoughts on the death chamber. Is it cruel and unusual? Is it fair? Does it prevent future crimes? Is it really our role in life to kill others?

I'll be in Canton tomorrow to cover closing arguments and the jury's deliberations. The only thing consistent about this trial so far is that it's been unpredictable. No one expected the prosecution to wrap up in just one week's time. No one expected Bobby Cutts to take the stand and admit to killing Jessie Marie Davis. No one expected that there would be no rebuttal witnesses and jurors would begin deliberating after just 6.5 days of testimony. No one predicted that jurors would spend three nights in a hotel deliberating what would end up as a split decision: murder for Jessie's death; aggravated murder for baby Chloe.

The way all of this has gone, we'll probably end up having the verdict read Tuesday night as Northeast Ohio is engaged in watching the Democratic debate. If that happens, our station will be in a quandary as to whether to run a crawl on the bottom of the screen about the Cutts decision during the debate .. or to wait until the 11 p.m. newscast. These are the contingencies that the media must now anticipate.

If Cutts were to receive the DP, he'd be the first cop in Ohio to be on death row and the first in America to get the death penalty in the murder of an unborn child. Historically, fewer than a third of DP cases in Stark County have led to the death chamber -- so history is on Cutts' side.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Arshinkoff strikes back ... or at least hopes to

I'm not sure what Alex Arshinkoff has done with his time over the past 48 hours, but I finally have at least some insight as to what he's thinking and feeling.

He's mad. He's frustrated. He feels that he's been done wrong.

I haven't talked to Arshinkoff (he never returns my calls), but he did fax over a copy of the four-page letter he sent to Secretary of State of Jennifer Brunner, who fired a political cruise missle from Columbus Wednesday that knocked AA from a role he's held for 30 years. I didn't see it coming. I don't know that anyone in the local media did.

Arhinskoff's letter asks Brunner for a meeting so that he can plead his case. He also takes issue with several key points .. writing:

  • "No complaint has ever been filed against me with the Ohio Ethics Commission, the Summit County Board of Elections or your office in my near thirty years of service."
  • "Given your status as a former judge, I am dismayed that you would accept as 'facts' spurious accusations made against me by my local political rivals without even allowing me the courtesy of responding to the claims."
  • "While you have have challenged my temperament as a board member, Mr. Jones' outrageous conduct has gone unchecked, unchallenged, and uncontrolled ..."
Arshinkoff also claims that Democrat Board Chair Wayne Jones told him "I'm gonna have Brunner take you off the Board -- You're going down" during the same meeting that Jones called Arshinkoff an "a****le"

The letter cuts to the chase and certainly conveys a confrontational tone.

I'm not sure if AA will get to have his "day in court" with Brunner, but he does raise a broader question of why he was expelled from school before he was ever given a detention. Shouldn't Brunner have sent him a letter of reprimand or called him on the phone to clean up his act before giving him the BOE death penalty?

Or ... after 30 years of AA's persona .. would second chances or threats be a waste of time?

I don't find myself weeping for AA's loss, but I do find myself questioning the process of how this came about ... wondering if it's really a sucker punch or just political karma.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Congressman's Akron visit makes for political salad

They were sitting around a long table, but it might as well have been a salad bowl the way everyone was mixed together for a big meeting on the Goodyear deal today.

Try to visualize this with me ...

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn) was in town to hear more about the deal; he chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee. As the VIP guest, Oberstar sat close to the center.

Directly across the table from "Jay-Oh" sat the usual political suspects ... Mayor Don Plusquellic, County Executive Russ Pry, and Lt. Governor Lee Fisher. They've all been at the front of the Goodyear deal and know it backwards and forwards.

Yet, on the same side of the table with Oberstar sat Tom Sawyer and Tim Ryan. Now, if you know your local political history, you know that Sawyer was forced out in 2002 by the state's population drop and new district lines; Ryan became the new kid on the block, knocking Sawyer out of a bid to return to a seat he'd held for more than a decade. You with me here?

Now, I have no idea if Sawyer holds any kind of a grudge ... but sitting at the table as a Ohio State Senator just a few feet away from a young gun who now holds your old seat as a U.S. Rep. can't be comfortable.

That's where the GOP -- say it isn't so -- rides to the rescue.

In an odd seating chart, there was one seat between Ryan and Sawyer .. and in it sat Steve LaTourette (R-Ashtabula). Many in Summit County foget that LaTourette is even part of of the Akron political landscape, but he does own his chunk of Sawyer's old district ... so he too was at the table today.

If you can imagine all of that, then you can see why I felt like it was a mixed bowl of greens .. choose your own dressing.

As an FYI: the third tenor in Akron's D.C. Congressional chorus these days is Betty Sutton, who was also at the meeting today .. and will be volunteering at the Akron-Canton Foodbank tommorrow.

I wonder if she'll serve any salad?

Cavs make major deal(s), help on way for Lebron

Moments ago, the Chicago Tribune confirmed what's been speculated about for a few hours .. the Cavs are blowing up part of their team with a few big trades.

Say goodbye to Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes .. say hello to big bad center Ben Wallace and Joe Smith. Smith was the number one pick of the entire draft years ago -- just like LeBron.

The Cavs reportedly also dealt some bench players for Wally Zerbiak, who played at Miami of Ohio. ESPN.com is now confirming both deals.

Our sports department is working overtime as you can imagine ...

Sure would be nice to see LeBron holding up the NBA's top trophy!

I'll keep my ears on the sports folks .. stay tuned .. Eric

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wednesday Web Chat

Arshinkoff out from Summit Board of Elections

Alex Arshinkoff's days on the Summit County Board of Elections are apparently over.

Two sources tell me that the embattled Republican Party Chair was served notice today by Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner that he's out at the end of his current four-year term -- Feb. 29th. The GOP must now submit a new name to Brunner for consideration.

Brunner's letter to AA included direct accusations that AA isn't "competent" to remain on the board, a position he's held for about 30 years.


"Regrettably, I have reason to believe that, if appointed, you will not be a competent member of the Summit County Board of Elections. I therefore shall not reappoint you to that baord for the new term beginning March 1, 2008."

Brunner goes on to lay out her reasons and to call AA not competent several more times.

AA is still in a dogfight with Kevin Coughlin to hold on to his role as Summit County GOP Chairman ...

I'd expect AA to be seeking a court injunction sooner than later..

More to come .. EM

Talking out of the seat of my pants

A funny thing happened on the way to a speaking engagement this morning .. but you have to know the background first.

I was scheduled to speak to 100+ women at Summa .. about TV and the war in Iraq ... around 10:30 a.m. One of the first people I met in the lobby was Gail Billow-Long ... who was "Ms. Billow" at Jennings Middle School in the 1980's. She taught sewing and home ec. classes. I still have a teddy bear that I made in her class.

Knowing that, how's this for karma and coincidence:

A short time after exchanging hellos with some of the women in the lobby, one of the nice Summa ladies got the attention of my wife, Lisa, to let her know of a serious problem.

She tactfully let my wife know that the entire left side of the back of pants had ripped out. Yep. Ripppppppppppp! I have no idea how it happened unless I caught it on something. Nevertheless, Ms. Billow went to get a sewing kit to try to "fix me up." Bless her heart. As she and the other women stood there surveying ways to salvage my backside, Ms. Billow told me that since I didn't rip a seam, there's nothing she could do for me.

In other words, my pants were done. Time of death: 10:31 a.m.

Another nice lady offered to tape me up .. and a nice gentleman from the audio visial department offered to get me some doctors scrubs. What? No one had a kilt? Both were good plans in a crisis, but I neither wanted a butt full of duct tape nor to look like I was making a cameo on General Hospital.

Long story short, I quickly accepted that while embarassment was kicking me in the butt, there was no turning back .. so I decided to just go in there and speak as scheduled.

I opened my talk by asking how many women in the audience had sons, and about 60 percent raised their hands. Seeing that, I told them "well, I guess you won't be offended that half of my backside is hanging out of a rip in my pants." They laughed pretty good at that one.

The talk progressed harmlessly from there ... I knew I was among moms, so that was good enough.

Among the questions I took was one from a nice woman who asked if I thought Hillary Clinton would get any votes from the vast number of men in this country who are addicted to pornography. About 100 humerous comebacks came to mind involving me spinning around to show off my southern exposure, but I thought better of adding yet another joke about my decimated dockers.

As a regular speaker, I always look for ice breakers .. but never have I had one literally just bite me in the butt.

Looking back, I'd say the talk went fine .. and the ladies asked some nice questions which made me feel nice. Still, it was a good lesson to learn: speaking in public might scare some people to death, but if you and the audience both have kids, you have more in common than you might think.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Great local house for sale .. ah, but there's a catch!

The listing reads as follows:
The home is located at 6967 Deer Trail Avenue, NE, Canton, Stark County. It is a detached two-story residence with four bedrooms, three bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, laundry room, two fireplaces and a three-car garage. There is a finished family room with a .75 bath in the basement. The home has 2,558 +/- square feet of gross living area and is situated on 27,375 +/- square feet.

The home is up for bid online through Thursday .... with a minimum starting bid of $237,000. The deal is guaranteed by the government, so if you're after your dream home for you and the love of your life to settle down and raise the twins, this sounds like a sweet deal, right?

Oh baby .. you better read the fine print on this one!

The government agency that's pimping this home on cyberspace is none other than the FBI. Yes, THAT FBI.

Here's the info as it was released by the FBI regarding 6967 Deer Trail Avenue two years ago:
On March 9, 2006, as a result of information generated from court authorized wiretaps, a 1987 Mazda automobile, which was believed to be the car transporting drugs to Canton, Ohio, and money on the return trip, was stopped at the direction of the investigating agents by the Ohio State Highway Patrol. A search of the vehicle revealed a hidden compartment containing approximately $950,000 in U.S. currency. An additional $150,000 was seized in subsequent searches for a total of $1.1 million. Also, fifteen handguns, assault rifles, and shotguns were seized as well as fifty-two kilograms of cocaine from the residence from which the 1987 Mazda left just prior to being pulled over. According to Mr. White, the seizure of drugs and money represents one of the largest and most successful drug investigations to occur in the Northern District of Ohio.

If you like the lure of a major drug kingpin's pad that sits smack in the middle of unsuspecting neighbors, this might your place.

Just think of the opportunities! You could:
  • set your toothbrushes on the same counters as 10 other people snorted cocaine
  • eat your Wheaties where hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally changed hands
  • sleep in a bedroom where someone might have had a gun put to their head
  • buy a robe like Al Pacino and walk around all day pretending to be Scarface
By the way, the drug bust that took place involving this house was nicknamed "Operation Gumshoe" but there's no evidence your feet will stick to the floor when your in-laws stop by for dinner.

According to the group running this auction for Uncle Sam, "Bid4Assets has been conducting auctions for the U.S. Marshals since December 1999 to include residential and commercial real estate, luxury automobiles, collector cars, aircraft, boats, jewelry, timeshares, sports memorabilia and financial instruments. The property offered for sale is either seized by and/or forfeited to the United States under federal forfeiture laws."

Sounds like if you want the bling to go with the outfit, it's there for the bidding too.

Kind of puts a whole new spin on the foreclosure market, eh?

Wall Street Journal features Akron's foreclosure woes

Nothing like making the national news for something bad eh? Quite an article in the Wall Street Journal featuring Akron's struggles with foreclosures. Read it here.

The story explains how private companies are making $$ by assessing foreclosed homes on behalf of the mortgage companies. Akron's foreclosure rate is high .. so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that businesses aimed at post-eviction operations would be turning a profit.

Still, why does it have to be us? What did we ever do from little ol' Akron to deserve this?

The WSJ story includes a slideshow comparing the inside and outside of a foreclosed home. Some of the before/after shots are compelling when considering the investment some make to fix a foreclosed property.

Just today I noticed more and more of the larger Fairlawn homes along West Market Street are tossing out "For Sale" signs.

By the way, the next Sheriff's auction of foreclosed properties is Friday at 10 a.m. For a look at the vast number of properties up for sale, click here.

I'm tired of seeing our city featured in the WSJ for stuff like this. Tired of it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bobby Cutts Death Penalty Poll

Will the jurors send Bobby Cutts to a death sentence? Or will they give him the benefit of the doubt and spare his life?

We'll find out beginning Monday .. when the penalty phase of his trial begins.

In the meantime, I wonder what the masses think .. I wonder what the rest of the community feels is right .. I'm wondering what you think.

Feel free to vote in the poll to the left .. and leave or email me your thoughts ...

On Sunday night/Monday morning, I'll post the thoughts from both sides .. and we'll see where we as a community really are on this highly polarizing issue.

Eric

Wishing I'd never heard the name "Jessie Davis"

A friend of mine recently mentioned one of my Jessie Davis posting that he thought was touching. I went back through my archive to re-read it, but I couldn't find it. Turns out, it was the last posting I made on my old blog on the NEO page before moving here to blogger.com.

This was originally posted at 8:20 a.m. on June 23rd ... after an exhausting week of reporting .. and just a few hours before I got a tip call that Jessie had been found in Summit County. I remember waking that Saturday morning and letting it all pour out ..



Dear Jessie,

I have learned so much about you this week without us ever meeting face-to-face. In some ways, I feel like I know you though I’ve never heard your voice.

Let me introduce myself. I’m just one of a slew of journalists whose been learning everything I can about you this week. I’ve asked your neighbors about you. I’ve met your co-workers. I’ve gotten to know you’re younger sister, Whitney, on a first-name basis. I’ve heard what a caring and devoted mother you are. I’ve watched your mother and others cry and talk about you daily. It’s obvious you are loved by so many.

Those you’ve never met, thousands of them, have stepped forward to help you. Many thousands more are praying for you. Dedicated police officers, some of them from as far away as Washington D.C., are working long hours in your name. Every hour, millions of strangers around the country are tuning in to radio and TV or surfing the web to get the latest on your life. You’re the talk of the town Jessie.

But to be totally honest, I wish you were still relatively unknown. I wish I didn’t know where you live or work or liked to eat. I wish I didn’t know that you were the oldest of seven kids and where you went to grade school. I just wish you were here to live your life and to be excited about the birth of your second child.

The more I think about you Jessie, the more I just simply wish we didn’t have bastards in this world who would take you away. Someone who would kidnap a pregnant mother in front of her own toddler. Someone who would do you harm in your own home. Someone whose making all of us double-check the locks on our doors every night and whose made my friend keep a worried eye on his daughter whose expecting the same week you are.

I guess I shouldn’t be complaining. This is big week for me. As a journalist, I’m supposed to be excited about covering the BIG story. As one of my colleagues said this week, “this is why you went to college and got into the TV business.” In reality, he’s right. My reports this week have aired on the local news in other cities and some of my work has been seen on national news.

It’s all aimed at covering the tale of your life, and I get to be the storyteller. Strangers keep asking me for the “inside story” about what’s going on with you. It seems everyone in the Akron-Canton area can’t get enough of you Jessie, and that makes me a person in demand for information. My professional ego should be soaring, right?!?!

But right now Jessie, I wish I was covering a boring public meeting instead of the BIG story. I wish the woman with the great smile in your missing person photos was smiling at her home, playing with her son, and getting ready for the big day that a little sister arrives. I wish we were meeting for the first time at the park watching our kids play in the first weeks of summer instead of through police press conferences and searches in the woods.

I hope you know how loved you are. I hope you know how much everyone wants you back where you belong. Above all, I hope you know that even reporters who salivate for the BIG story wish the last 10 days were about something other than you.

Surely you can't be serious ..

Anyone check their insurance policy to see if you're covered should this satellite that's out of control crash into your house?

Is it still considered an "Act of God" if you can trace the projectiles that smash through your windows all the way back to President Bush?

Would the government pay to replace my garage if a piece of steel traveling a gazillion miles miles per hour rains down from the heavens?

Will I need proof that the sphere that's imbedded in my bed is actually from the satellite?

The longer this story plays out, the more I keep wondering if a real-life Jack Baeur isn't out there to fly up in the Space Shuttle and take immediate action -- in 24 hours of course :) If it's really this dangerous, I'm surprised our government didn't just shoot it down quietly and let the "chips fall where they may."

Seriously though ... for all the New Orleans folks who thought they were covered when the levies broke ... I wonder if my policy covers extraterrestrial disasters?

Friday, February 15, 2008

Cutts verdict high on silence, low on drama

After surviving the media crush outside the courthouse in Canton long enough to return to Akron to file my stories, I can tell you that it was kind of like a candy bar ... smooth on the inside, but crunchy on the outside to say the least.


Inside, Judge Charles Browns left no room for miscommunication from the first moment he took the bench. He told the audience that he wouldn't tolerate even a cough from the gallery .. and fortunately, he never had to deal with anyone getting out of line.


Both families held in their emotions .. .and so did Bobby Cutts. His attorney told us later that Bobby sat through the verdict instead of standing under orders from Deputies. The courtroom looked like Secret Service protecting a major political figure -- watching the crowd and not the target.

Outside, it was a different story. The judge's decision to outlaw interviews in the courthouse created a mob mentality on Tuscarawas Avenue. Both families were forced out of the same courtroom door and into the high noon, cold air traffic and a sea of media. The result was family members running from reporters as though the journalists were holding torches and pitchforks. The reality was that most of the journalists simply wanted to afford relatives a chance to comment without invading personal space or adding to the stress.

In other case I've covered, Judges have allowed the media to stay in their coutroom and use the pool camera for interviews. That way, subjects only face one camera instead of a mass .. and those who don't want to talk can indicate such and leave with dignity. I'm glad no one got hurt trying to run across the busy noon traffic on Tuscarawas Avenue.

So now we'll make plans to return for the penalty phase ... which is coming up beginning Feb. 25th. Same jurors in the same courtroom facing the same suspect .. but with a different mission -- to determine if Bobby Cutts lives or dies.

I'd expect Cutts to take the stand again .... in part feeling like his testimony the first time around allowed him to escape the more serious charge in regards to the murder of Jessie. I'd be surprised if he didn't speak his mind again to try and save his life.

I'm back in Canton now... live at 5, 6, 6;30, and 7 .. then out to Kent to tape NewsNight Akron .. then back to anchor our Akron-Canton News coverage at 10.

Busy day .. sure glad we didn't also a Presidential candidate in town to cover ... :)

Split Decision in Bobby Cutts verdict

Jury finds Cutts not guilty of the aggravated murder of Jessie Marie Davis, choosing instead to find him guilty of the lesser count of murder .. but jurors did find Cutts guilty of the aggravated murder counts attached to her unborn baby.

That means we'll definitely have another trial to see if Bobby will receive the death penalty.

Cutts is listening quietly ... I've never seen so many security officers ...

More to come

VERDICT!

Jurors announced at 10:05 that they had a verdict .. it'll be read in open court at 10:40 a.m. I'm preparing to provide live play-by-play to Channel 3 via cell phone.

More to come ... Eric

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Webchat - live from the Cutts deliberations!

Cutts, Davis family members wait ... and endure

11:22 a.m. Family members for both Jessie Marie Davis and Bobby Cutts remain here at the Stark County Courthouse ... and they look tired to say the least. The media and the public are keeping their distance, which is certainly a good thing.

Jessie's family is in the prosecutor's office, just around the corner from the second floor media room. Meanwhile, Bobby's family is on the first floor near the cafeteria. You can't help but feel compassion for both families after what they've endured the last two weeks.

The TV crews are preparing their noon reports .. Chris Tye will do ours for TV3. The competiting liveshots should look identical with each reporter sharing the only nugget we've been given this morning -- copies of the questions the jurors asked over the last two days. (Here's what it looked like: Channel 8 in foreground; TV3's Chris Tye in background.)

Today might be Valentine's Day but there's no sign of anything red or colorful here in the Courthouse. In fact, it was eight months ago today that Jessie was killed.

Media speculation as to the verdicts and beyond continues ... mostly as a way to fight the boredom.

To be honest, the scene here reminds me somewhat of parts of my tour with the military in Iraq. Long periods of boredom preceeding a what will eventually be a tense, emotional situation .. but there's no way to know when that moment will arrive. You just have to be ready.

Bobby Cutts headline misleading

10:15 a.m. This morning's front-page Beacon Journal headline of "Cutts Jury indicates it has reached one verdict" is misleading at best. It's a flat leap based on a hypothetical that jurors posed last night to Judge Claude Brown.

Here's the facts: A short time ago, courthouse spokesman Mark Warner distributed copies of all questions asked by the jurors.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the jury submitted this written question: "If count one has been decided and signed by the jurors, and a juror is replaced the next day, would count 1 need to be redeliberated?" (see picture)

That is NOT the same as saying they've reached a verdict on count one, which in this case is the aggravated murder of Jessie Marie Davis. If anything, it appears to be a hypothetical with the jurors trying to get guidance on what to do if a juror needs replaced after a decision has been reached on one or more charges but with others still undecided.

Don't blame reporter Phil Trexler; he doesn't write the headlines. He wrote that "... in one they (the jury) insuated they had reached a verdict on the first count ..." None of the media was granted access to the written questions until this morning, so Phil's writing would support what was heard in open court last night. Still, the ABJ's definititive headline, which was picked up by Cleveland radio stations today, isn't what it appears.

By the way, Judge Brown's answer: "No alternate juror shall be substituted during any deliberation." That answer leaves many of us guessing as to its context as well.

Later, jurors sent a note to disregard because they'd worked out their issue.

Stay tuned. EM

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday Web Chat -- Hi Everyone!

Plusquellic endorses Clinton

A Democratic SNAFU today that included published reports that Mayor Plusquellic had endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton for President -- reports that were later pulled back as premature speculation -- grew into an actual endorsement just a few minutes ago.

In an email sent to the media via City Communications Director Mark Williamson, Mayor Plusquellic writes:
"It had been my intention to announce my position with regard to this year's Ohio Presidential Primary at an event in Akron on Friday. Due to scheduling problems, this event will not be held. Today, a list of supporters released by Ohioans for Hillary that mistakenly included my name has added to confusion over my position.

"Tonight, I am joining with Governor Ted Strickland, Lt. Governor Lee Fisher, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones and other state leaders in endorsing
the candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton for President of the United States. I believe that Senator Clinton is the best prepared candidate to lead our country."

Mayor Plusquellic had a press conference this morning yet didn't mention an endorsement ... so to see a story a few hours later claiming that he'd endorsed Clinton seemed a bit out of left field. Yet now .. rather than let any uncertainty fester, Plusquellic makes his intentions known.

The endorsement shouldn't be much of a surprise. Akron hosted several rallies for Bill Clinton during his Presidential run -- including the massive event at the Air Dock. President Clinton also visited Akron for the town hall meeting in the mid 1990's.

You can bet Plusquellic wasn't pleased to have his hand forced in this way by the confusion created by Ohioans For Hillary.

Obama-Clinton debate tickets may not be for everyone

Here's what we're reporting tonight about the debate later this month at CSU:
  • "NEWS ABOUT TICKETS..A VERY LIMITED NUMBER...SOME WILL GO TO CSU STUDENTS IN A LOTTERY...MOST OF THE REST TO DONORS, SPONSORS, THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND CAMPAIGNS...DETAILS FOR A POSSIBLE PUBLIC LOTTERY STILL BEING WORKED OUT ... "

I can only imagine how many calls Madeline Bozzelli is getting right now. She's the interim chair of the Summit County Dems after Russ Pry stepped down to work full-time as County Executive. Madeline is the nicest lady you'll ever meet. I hope local folks keep that in mind when they call her in a frenzy for tickets. No reason to beat up the messenger as you can bet she'll have fewer tickets than she'd like for the party.

Courthouse preparing for second night of sequestering the Cutts Jury

3:54 p.m. The courthouse staff just told the media throngs that there is "absolutley nothing to report."

Jurors haven't asked any questions ... and haven't made any noise at all.

While a verdict could still come down late this afternoon, the court is now making preparations for jurors to spend a second night in a local hotel. They're expected to deliberate until 5:30 or 6 p.m. and that's it tonight.

I've heard some legal "experts" argue that the longer jurors deliberate, the more it favors the defendant. If the jury is indeed kept a second night, just watch and see if the national "experts" don't make the same leap. I argue that we don't know anything. Those jurors have a lot to weigh .. and really should make sure that they're sure before coming out.

My competitors are heading outside for their 4 p.m. liveshots ... but as for Chris Tye and me, the
wait continues ....

Cutts Jurors approaching 24 hour mark

2:45 p.m. The Cutts jurors have had the case for just about 24 hours now .. still no verdict or any indication of when they'll come back. Could be in two minutes .. or it could be another two days.

It's been good to catch up with the other news crews here in Canton today ... they're waiting and waiting .. just like we are at TV3.

Our "verdict plan" right now is for Chris Tye to man the front inside the courtroom .. and I'll be live outside the courthouse ... talking to the anchors before and/or after the verdict comes in. In TV speak, I'm a safety net ... in case there's a major delay, the anchors and I can do Q & A while waiting for the jury forms to come full circle.

If we have a verdict today, I'll anchor the front portion of the 6:30 Akron-Canton Newscast from here in Canton .. and someone else will do the "other news of the day." If the verdict doesn't come by 6:30, I'll do a short liveshot for the Akron news and then turn it over to Vic Gideon to anchor the rest of the show from Akron. It's a lot of "ifs" and "thens" in our planning.

I still keep feeling a parallel to the Prade case ... although that verdict came in with less than 24 hours of deliberations .. and that jury was not sequestered as the Cutts jurors are. Technology has also advanced from 9+ years ago ... allowing today's journalists to keep blogging and providing instant updates.

The courthouse seems remarkably calm and quiet ... hallways, courtrooms, outside, inside ... considering the potential fireworks that could come at any time.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Super Delegate dilemma could push away Democrats' up-and-comers

Our newsroom is preparing a story for later this week that explains what a "super" delegate is in relation to the race for the White House. Most folks who follow politics have heard of the SD's, but probably wouldn't know a super delegate from superman.

Right now, we keep talking about "regular" delegates, which are what the candidates win each time they win a portion of a state's Presidential primary. Some states are winner-take-all, but most lately have involved giving each candidate a number of delegates based on how many votes they received.

For the Dems, 2025 total delegates are needed to have a majority ... and with that comes the nomination for President. Republicans have a similar SD system, but it involves fewer delegates.

Got it? Clear as a dense fog? right!

Well .. then there's this whole matter of "super" delegates. There are 842 on the Democratic side alone .. and that makes up 40 percent of the total delegates. The SD's aren't chosen by the people, but are rather appointed by the party; typically Democratic Governors, Senators, Congressman are SD's .. even Bill Clinton gets to be a SD this time around. Again, 842 of them in all.

So it's plausible that Barack Obama could win more state primaries and finish with more elected delegates than Hillary Clinton ... and yet Clinton could still get the Democratic Party's nomination because more of the SD's will vote for her thinking that she is more electable. Of course, the opposite could happen as well.

Wouldn't you be offended if that happened?

My fear is that if that scenario develops, the young base that the Dems have worked so hard to attract are sure to feel offended and rebel against the party and maybe politics altogether. Could you blame them?

Why spend so much time, working so hard, talking to so many people so that your candidate can get more actual votes from the people .. only to see a bunch of Washington stuffed shirts say, "Sorry .. we know better than you"?

Like most Americans, I'm still learning about the SD process, which seems to be a checks-and-balances program that allows party bosses the final say to ensure the people choose someone who is in their best interest.

Still, if this drama continues to play out on America's stage the way it's going, we might honestly see the people who came out for all the right reasons being pushed away for all the wrong ones.

Bobby Cutts jurors to break at 6 p.m.

Reporter Chris Tye tells us that jurors are expected to end their deliberations at 6 p.m. today and retire to a hotel for the evening. So if they don't reach a quick decision, it looks like we won't have a verdict until at least tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Bobby Cutts jurors given second option for conviction

One of the key motions before this morning's closing arguments involved a defense motion asking that jurors be able to consider a lesser charge of "involuntary manslaughter." Judge Brown turned it down flat.

He did though add the charge of murder .. meaning jurors will have the option of convicting Cutts on either Aggravated Murder or Murder in the deaths of Jessie Marie Davis and her unborn child, Chloe.

A conviction of Aggravated Murder would bring the possibility of the death penalty; that would also set the stage for a second trial to determine whether Cutts should die for his actions. A conviction for murder would allow Cutts to escape the death penalty and set up a life sentence scenerio. There are still lesser charges of abuse of a corpse, burglary, and child endangering that many feel are locks as guilty verdicts.

Jurors have been deliberating for just a short time now ... but as we've seen so far, everything in this trial has gone faster than we expected .. so it's no lock that they'll spend the night sequested in a hotel. My experience with other juries like this is that the judge will look for the jury foreman to tell him when they are ready to go to the hotel or if they want to keep deliberating into the evening.

I've got my boots on ... ready to head to the courthouse in the snow .. be it tonight, tomorrow or Wednesday.

Cutts trial has striking similarities to Prade case

I've heard folks comparing Bobby Cutts and Doug Prade for months. Considering both are police officers charged with committing murder (serious and unique for sure), I can see where folks would make comparisons. Still, I didn't find many actual similarities -- until the trial began.

Oddly enough, in both cases we have a bite mark that's come in to play. When it comes to the victims, both women had close daily ties to their mothers, who now are raising their orphaned children.

Also in both cases, the defendant mandated his right to take the stand and testify. It may work out that that decision leads to both men getting the maximum conviction.

In Prade's case, he not only took the stand to state his version of the facts (in his case his alibi), he also wanted to debate the bite mark to the point of demonstrating how his upper dentures popping out. Jurors later told me that that was the moment that convinced them he was guilty.

Now comes Cutts. Like Prade, he too not only mandates that he get on the stand but ends up providing the additional details that would seem to sink his ship. Rather than just explain his version of Jessie's accidental death and provide a simple account of why he panicked and dumped her body, Cutts volunteered additional details -- such as why he washed his car after leaving the woods and why he stopped at a grocery store -- that did nothing but give jurors more reason to convict him.

I'll be interested in seeing what the jurors say -- if they speak publicly -- about whether Bobby's excessive testimony brought them to convict him in the same way Prade's testimony did him in.

Unlike the Prade case, this is a capital murder case .. so if convicted of the most serious charge, we'll end up having a second trial later this month to determine whether Cutts deserves the death penalty. That would also likely bring a return of the gag order so we wouldn't have any reaction from relatives, jurors, or attorneys.

Prosecutors are delivering their closing arguments right now .. with the defense set to go later this morning. Jurors will get instructions after lunch and then begin deliberations. I've got my car gassed up so I can fly down to the courthouse as an additional reporter to Chris Tye on the case.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Bobby Cutts on the stand - live webchat

Cutts cross-examination; webchat tonight!

After a full afternoon of Bobby Cutts baring his soul, jurors are now being instructed to pack a bag tomorrow in anticipation of being sequested following the end of testimony. Join me here for webchat at 8:30 tonight!

After Cutts came clean in a pool of tears that he had killed Jessie with an accidental elbow to the head during an argument, prosecutors hit back. They began by asking Cutts if he "cried this much" when he dumped Jessie's body in the woods. Later, a prosecutor pushed Cutts' buttons asking him if he thought Jessie's fetus died when Cutts hit her with the elbow and later why little Blake thought mommy was "in the rug."

The jurors' questions to Bobby seemed to have emotional tags to them. One juror asked why Cutts didn't leave Myesha Ferrell to watch Blake while he was dumping the body.

Oddly enough, a case that some thought would take a month has instead of taken six days: five for the proesecution (including opening statements) and just one for the defense.

So what did you think of the testimony? Join me live tonight for webchat here at 8:30 p.m. Eric

Bobby Cutts testimony surprising, emotional

Bobby Cutts is doing right now what many defense attorneys never want their clients to do .. he's confessing on the stand. Watch it here!

He's been crying for several hours while claiming that he elbowed Jessie Marie Davis during an argument and that she died. Cutts claims he panicked after that and hid the body. He also admitted to having young Blake in the house spreading bleach.

I think all bets are off right now as to what impact this will have on the jury, which could have received this case as early as tomorrow. Considering the defense just finished with direct examination, the prosecution may not finish its cross-examine until tommorrow.

This has been tough to watch ...

Full wrap up at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

No more teasing

A friend of mine who regularly visits this blog gave me grief last night that I've teased ahead to a few things I've investigated and then left readers hanging. The more I think about it, the more I think he's probably right.

So, in an effort to clear that up, I can tell you that the two stories I mentioned in January both had to do with area teens. One involved a teen who was allegedly bullied in such a way that had authorities or other agencies become involved, I thought the story would unfortunately draw national attention. Right now, some school leaders are involved but it doesn't look like the story is going to reach the level of media mention. So for now, that story is off the table.

The other story I teased in early January also focused on teens, specifically young ladies allegedly caught with cocaine in a place you'd never expect. That story has also hit a wall -- at least for now.

It doesn't mean that neither of these cases is true nor does it mean they won't end up eventually on the evening news. It just means that my investigating of the cases has stalled or reached a level that isn't valid for reporting yet. The last thing I'd ever want to do is report a story with half the facts or just to be flat wrong. So for now, both stories are still on my desk, but not in a newscast any time soon.

That said, I'll try not to tease again unless I know I'll be able to deliver the "goods" in a timely manner.

Stay warm .. Eric

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"The Franchise" provides eye-opening look at Lebron, Cavs

Just finished an enjoyable journey through "The Franchise: LeBron James and the remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers" by Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst. I'm not much of a book critic, but this one is really worth discussing.

If you're a Cavs fan, you'll find the inside story of how today's franchise came together to be enlightening and educational. If you're a LeBron fan, you'll learn more about him than you already knew .. and I don't mean that he's a Yankees and Cowboys fan.

First, Pluto's and Windhorst's dinstinct writing styles are quite engaging. They each write like educated fans as opposed to those who cover the Cavs as a business or news assignment. That makes this a much easier and enjoyable read.

The book opens with the Cavs in the dumps of the early 80's while a teen mom in Akron was giving birth to a son she named LeBron. The book yings and yangs between LeBron's growth and the Cavs slow, painful death following the Price-Daughtery-Nance years.

The book really delivers on explaining how the Cavs purposely tanked in 2002-03 to improve their chances at LeBron .. and how they would have missed out on the LeBron lottery if that hadn't traded Shawn Kemp three years earlier.

The chapters on the shoe war to land LeBron before the draft were fascinating. I was in Iraq at the time and missed all of it .. so it's all news to me. The war of people around LeBron during his teen years is also well told.

Pluto and Windhorst also do a great job of taking the reader inside the war room of rebuilding the Cavs after they won the lottery. As a fan, I really didn't care for Jim Paxon one bit as GM, but after reading The Franchise, I have a much greater appreciation for his work and his dedication to family.

You'll also have a new respect -- make that a new love -- for Cavs owner Dan Gilbert after reading this book. If the Cavs can't win a championship with Gilbert as the owner, no one can.

If you're hoping for behind-the-scenes stories of the 2007 playoffs, forget it .. the topic doesn't come up until the last 10 pages ... although it's great to relive the team's first appearance in the Finals, even if they got swept.

I'm still looking for a book that definitively explains how LeBron James was able to afford tuition at St. Vincent-St. Mary while being raised by a mother who could barely afford to put food on the table. Call it the one question that won't go away in the back of my head.

Still, if you'd like better insight into how the current Cavs, the arena, and even the posse that surrounds LeBron was built from the ground up, you'll truly enjoy The Franchise.

Mayor "P" delivers idea that reaks of innovation

Nothing like saving the best for last ...

Mayor Plusquellic's near one-hour State of the City address today hit a lot of the expected highlights as it wound down ... then out of nowhere it left the audience cleaning wax from their ears to make sure they heard right.

He wants to provide scholarships for thousands of local students by selling or leasing the city's sewer system for $100 million or more.

Excuse me? You want to do what?

Just when I thought I heard everything, at least when it came to Don Plusquellic's legacy as our city's longest-serving Mayor, comes an idea to pay for higher education with your lower intestine. Well, sort of.

Mayor "P" says this plan has it all:
  • gets more local kids to attend the local college
  • keeps more families living in town
  • convinces other families to move to Akron
  • funds itself
  • should increase enrollment in the Akron Public Schools

Am I dreaming here? This seems too simple, although I'm sure it won't be once they started playing with the dollars and pipes.

I could write a ton of humerous analogies .. but right now all I can think about is how great it would be for Akron's best to stay in Akron for college and to have the largest part of their bill -- tuition -- already covered.

Obviously, the city needs to find a buyer/leaser .. and needs to iron out details so my bills don't quadruple, but the idea has serious merit at a time when we're trying hard to keep families, students, and jobs.

I asked a woman from Hartville who has two daughters (10 and 8 I think) if she would consider moving to Akron so her kids could attend APS if it meant four years of free tuition at the U of A .. and she said "absolutely."

Again, of all the ideas I expected to hear today, all I can say is "wow."

Cutts case gaining life of its own

A few thoughts after three days of testimony ... I can't believe we've had so much heavy testimony in the first few days of the case.

The prosecution is really cutting to the chase. Putting Patty Porter up first and getting right into her finding Jessie's ransacked room was really blunt.

We hadn't heard Bobby's voice much before the tapes of his conversations with Sheriff's Deputies were played in court Tuesday. He's really soft-spoken.

I think most folks were surprised-yet-not-surprised to see two other women on the stand that’d also had relationships with Cutts. One claimed she'd aborted Bobby's baby .. and later we learn that Jessie had a miscarriage with another of Bobby's babies. Makes you wonder how much Bobby's fellow officers knew of his out-of-control personal life .. and if any of them tried to straighten him out.

Myesha Ferrell's testimony was jagged enough that it fit what sources told us to expect. That she was just naive enough to go along with a violent plan that showed up at her door one night ... and then not smart enough to come forward before it collapsed around her.

Not trying to create a conspiracy here .. but did Kelly Shaub (Cutts' ex-wife) put herself under the miscroscope by testifying that Jessie Marie Davis was trying to break up her marriage to Bobby? She claimed that Jessie went so far as to call and brag about having sex with Bobby and even left her underwear in Kelly's drawer. Obviously, police have cleared Kelly and verified her alibi that night -- again, not making a leap or insuation here -- but her testimony identifies someone other than Bobby who could have had a grudge.

The Medical Examiner's testimony that's yet to come will be brutal at best. The photos of the scene at the Top of the World are the stuff horror movies are made of. Expect testimony also about what animals did to the crime scene. I can only hope that Jessie's family will step out of the courtroom.

Opening statements reminded me of the Prade trial 9+ years ago. Prosecutor Chryssa Hartnett delivered the first words of this trial in hopes of connecting with the jurors. In the Prade trial, it was Alison McCarty (now an Akron municipal court judge) who got first crack in the courtroom.

If I remember correctly, prosecutors told me that McCarty went first instead of her male co-counsel because jurors seeing a woman would be more likely to focus on Margo Prade -- the victim -- instead of the suspect. That was important to laying the groundwork. Likewise, now comes Hartnett instead of her male co-counsel .. and she too looks to connect while talking about Jessie.

I don't pretend to know much about the psychology of courtroom testimony, but the two trials are showing some similarities.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Teachers crossing the line

Like a lot of parents, I've been troubled by the number of teachers who've been arrested for having innapropriate relationships with students.

Buchtel Coach Claude Brown and Jennings Middle School teacher Randal Crane are some of the cases I worked on most recently. Then of course, we have all the national cases like Debra Lafave, the female teacher in Florida who had sex with a teen boy there and didn't even go to jail. These stories seem to be on the news every night.

But why? I mean, why????

Why are so many teachers crossing the line?

I wanted to find out ... so I asked a real teacher who went to prison for having sex with a child. I asked him why teachers do it and how they choose their victims. I was blown away by how candid he was with his answers. See the promo here.

Leaving out some of the more disturbing revelations, I've crafted a story that hopefully provides real advice for parents on how to know if your child is getting too close with a teacher. Still, with fewer than one percent of teachers being charged with this kind of stuff, there's no reason to worry our children that every teacher out there is a threat -- that part is just not true. But the number of reported cases is on the rise, and that's alarming.

My story plays Wednesday night at 11 p.m. on Channel 3. I invite your feedback .. both positive and negative. Eric

Bobby Cutts trial blogged in real time

My colleague, Chris Tye, is blogging from the Stark County Courthouse as the trial progresses. Tye's our lead reporter on this case ... covering the day-to-day developments for the noon and evening news broadcasts as well as for wkyc.com. He'll also join us live for our trial special tonight on Channel 3 News at 7.

As Chris is reporting, the trial has opened with a few new revelations .. namely that prosecution experts say Jessie Marie Davis was strangled, although medically a cause of death has not been determined. Behind the scenes, several sources told me early on that Jessie has probably been killed in this manner because it fit with the typical domestic murder when its a volatile relationship and there's no sign of a gun. The defense sounds like its not denying that Cutts was involved with disposing of the body but says the prosecution can't prove he killed her.

With nearly 100 possible witnesses, the trial could last a month.

AK Rowdies have "vest"ed interest in hoop dreams

I had a great time at the Zips basketball game Saturday night .. and not just because the U of A buried Eastern Michigan by 20 points .. but because the "AK Rowdies" really put on quite a show.

If you haven't been to a game recently, the Rowdies are a group of 70+ students who stand at the visiting end of JAR Arena .. right next to the opposing team's bench.

In the spirit of other fan-organzed, student-crazy, basketball-lovin support networks that rise to the occassion to cheer on the nation's biggest hoops programs, the Rowdies are coordinated, concentrated, and down-right clever.

The group turned their backs on the EM team as they were introduced only to spin around and yell something different after each player's name was announced. That pretty much set the tone that if EM was going to stay in this game, they could expect to be heckled during every second.

Group members do some of the usual fan favorites by chanting "defense" and by "waving as the opponents shoot free throws" ... but these guys took it a step further by picking on the EM coaches, trainers, and red-shirt players who were all wearing pretty white sweater vests like a snooty fraternity group.

At one point, the cheerleader-led "Let's Go Zips!" morphed into "Sweat-Er-Vests!" .. as the Rowdies' sarcasm permeated the entire end of JAR Arena. It was hilarious from the opening tip.

Eventually, the EM coach began yelling at some of his players as they were spending too much time watching the Rowdies instead of the game, which may be the best compliment you can give a college sports fan.

Hope these guys never decide to heckle evening news :)

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Shameless promotion to help my sons' school trips

My oldest son, Joshua, took an idea and ran with it .. creating the new "Have I Got News For You" logo that now tops this daily news blog. He really worked hard so I'm thrilled to add it to the layout. (Had I drawn any kind of logo, it would have been stick figures personified. Trust me, my family can tell you that my Pictionary drawings are anything but "works of art.")

Anyway, being the creative and energetic 13-year-old that Joshua is, he's thrilled to head out to the East Coast soon for a school field trip; my middle son, Jacob (10), has committed to a NY school trip of his own. My checkbook sounds like the little rascals saying "Go, Whoa, Hold It!" (If you've put kids through school, then you can appreciate where I'm coming from.)

So to cut to the chase, rather than try to hock a zillion candy bars, I've set up an on-line shop with a few basic products with Josh's new logo. Yep, it's shameless promotion for the blog .. but it'll also fund the kids' trips.

Feel free to share trip-funding advice or just tell me I'm full of it .. I can take it :)

And as always, thanks to those of you who continue to stop by and make me feel like my writing is worthwhile.

EM

Zippy goes Super Bowl while P.R. meets Oprah

And a good Saturday morning to us all ....

As you enjoy the Super Bowl tomorrow .. keep you eyes open for Zippy, or at least Zippy's head zoo-keeper, Dr. Luis Proenza. The U of A has purchased two regional TV spots in the big game. Here's the first one if you'd like a sneak preview. Click here.

The second spot features two former UA players -- Domenik Hixon and Chase Blackburn -- who play for the NY Giants. The big-game strategy isn't unusual for the U of A, which has purchased air time on the Super Bowl in previous years.

Down the road, local artist P.R. Miller will also be making a big TV splash as it looks like he'll be on Oprah. P.R. (which he always jokes stands for "public relations") tells me that he didn't even know who Oprah was when he was first approached. "I don't have time to watch TV," he told me.

Turns out her producers love what he's been able to do as recycling royalty. So Oprah had her people call P.R.'s people (which means they called P.R. directly) to get the ball rolling and as part of the project, P.R. will be able to market a book that is being written about him. The book is nearing completion and should be quite the tale.

Miller tells me that the book doesn't have a title yet but it'll probably contain "Grizzled Wizzard" in some fashion since that's his nickname.

I only wish I'd have approached Miller about writing his life story a few years ago because he's a fascinating guy. I only hope that this new book is published on recycled paper or at least has a cover that looks like a blug bag :)

These days, P.R. continues to be the Artisan in Residence at Stan Hywet. He told me that he has art students from Firestone High School making bugs for an upcoming exhibit at the hall. Look for him if you're there ..

By the way, P.R. may be the last man in Akron not to have an e-mail address. If he doesn't know who Oprah is, it's probably not surprising that he's never been on-line either. And after all, no one's figured out how to recycle e-mail yet

Friday, February 1, 2008

Jail strip search generates major feedback

My in-box has been filling up with viewer comments about last night's story on WKYC in which a group of Stark County Sheriff's Deputies are shown forcibly strip searching a woman at the jail.

It's odd for me to get emails when a collegeague, in this case Tom Meyer, put the story together and I had nothing to do with it ...

I've forwarded the notes I received to Tom, but here's just a sampling of what some viewers felt after seeing the story:


  • "I can't imagine ANY circumstances that would warrant such treatment, EVER. And being left in a jail cell with no clothing for 6 hours? This whole story is an outrage."
  • "I watched in horror, but not disbelief, the abuse that this woman went through. It must be brought out that this would be just as bad of an illegal act for a man to go through this terrible abuse."
  • "I saw the video of the Strip search of the woman by Stark County Sheriff Deputies last night on your news and was so disturbed. I have never been compelled to write a news channel , but this story made me sick to my stomach. "
  • "Paying this family money is NOT justice. I can't pay off people and not go to court for a crime, and this was a crime. These cops should serve time, hard time. As a matter of fact, they should be serving more time because they violated their oaths!"

I also heard quite a few folks debating the story on WNIR and elsewhere ... it really hit some folks hard.

Today, I spoke to the photographer who worked with Tom, and he told me that the raw video tape shook him up pretty good ... it was that graphic.

Part two will air tonight at 11 .. while we'll take another look at part one tonight on the Akron-Canton News at 10.

Candidates' war talk speaks for itself

Each of us has an issue that is key to selecting who gets our vote for President. Whether it's the economy, immigration, education, or American Idol, there's something at the top of your list. The tough part is finding out exactly how each of the candidates feels about that issue without any media spin.

For veterans and many local military families, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are often the top issue. So, rather than weave through the soundbites, I navigated to the websites of the top four -- Obama, Clinton, McCain, and Romney -- to see what limb each is climbing out on in regards to what our troops and their families can expect from the next Commander-in-Chief.

According to Obama's website: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda."

According to Clinton's website: "The most important part of Hillary's plan is the first: to end our military engagement in Iraq's civil war and immediately start bringing our troops home. As president, one of Hillary's first official actions would be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff, her Secretary of Defense, and her National Security Council. She would direct them to draw up a clear, viable plan to bring our troops home starting with the first 60 days of her Administration. She would also direct the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to prepare a comprehensive plan to provide the highest quality health care and benefits to every service member -- including every member of the National Guard and Reserves -- and their families."

According to McCain's website: "A greater military commitment now is necessary if we are to achieve long-term success in Iraq. John McCain agrees with retired Army General Jack Keane that there are simply not enough American forces in Iraq. More troops are necessary to clear and hold insurgent strongholds; to provide security for rebuilding local institutions and economies; to halt sectarian violence in Baghdad and disarm Sunni and Shia militias; to dismantle al Qaeda; to train the Iraqi Army; and to embed American personnel in Iraqi police units. Accomplishing each of these goals will require more troops and is a crucial prerequisite for needed economic and political development in the country. America's ultimate strategy is to give Iraqis the capabilities to govern and secure their own country."

According to Romney's website: ""I think many of us still fail to comprehend the extent of the threat posed by radical Islam, by Jihad. Understandably, we focus on Afghanistan and Iraq. Our men and women are dying there.We think in terms of countries, because we faced countries in last century's conflicts. But the Jihad is much broader than any one nation or nations. Jihad encompasses far more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For radical Islam, there is an over-arching conflict and goal - replacing all modern Islamic states with a caliphate, destroying America, and conquering the world."


So .. to summarize:
The two Dems are pitching that they will each end the war by drawing down the troops while pledging to do so in a matter that keeps all-out war from happening again.
Meanwhile the two GOP candidates are convinced that the region is too unstable with too much at stake to even think of drawing down right now. McCain openly suggests increasing our troops on the ground while Romney stays away from the definitive issue, choosing instead to focus on the world-wide fear of a Jihad.