A disrespectufl fool

A man who flapped his arms about in a cemetery, making ghost noises within earshot of mourners visiting graves was fined and given a suspended prison sentence. Anthony Stallard, 24, was reported to police after he was seen throwing himself backwards and saying ‘wooooooh’ at Kingston Cemetery in his home town of Portsmouth, the city’s magistrates heard. Shortly before that, Stallard, who is unemployed, was seen kicking a football at graves with a friend.

Tim Concannon, prosecuting, told Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court: ‘While the football was going on, this defendant was effectively singing loudly and being disrespectful in among the graves. ‘He was throwing himself backwards, waving his arms about and going ‘woooooooh’. ‘I’m assuming he was pretending to be a ghost.’

Police arrested him and charged him with using threatening or abusive words or behaviour likely to cause distress. Stallard admitted the charge, and accepted that his behaviour could cause distress to grieving relatives.

Denise Saunders, defending, said: ‘He has accepted that his behaviour, if it had been outside of a cemetery, would not have been inappropriate. ‘But inside a cemetery, while people are grieving for their loved ones, it might be.’

Stallard committed the offence while subject to a 12-month conditional discharge which he’d received for a charge of harassment in January. He was also in breach of a suspended sentence for an offence of assault, which he had committed in August last year. He was fined £35, and made to pay a £20 victim surcharge and £20 court costs. An extra three months was added to his suspended sentence, which will now run for 15 months instead of the previous 12.  And if he commits a further offence that breaches this suspended sentence, he will face 12 weeks’ imprisonment. Charges of causing damage to gravestones as the pair played football were dismissed when witnesses failed to turn up at court.

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The honor roll

In February of 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama bestowed the Medal of Freedom to Hall of Fame baseball player Stan Musial. Such honors are commonplace in American government, at both the state and federal levels. In general, they’re a nice way to honor those who have served their nation. In Musial’s case, he was honored for his work after his baseball career as much as he was for his 475 homers and 3,630 career hits. But those are details — details that are often glossed over. When these resolutions are passed by legislative branches, the minutia aren’t always very important to the voting representatives. One case from the early 1970s made that clear.

On April 1, 1971, Tom Moore, Jr. of the Texas House of Representatives brought a resolution to honor a man named Albert DeSalvo (pictured), born forty years earlier in Chelsea, Massachusetts. DeSalvo, Moore posited, was a leader in his community back home and deserved recognition even though he had tenuous at best ties to Texas. (In fact, there’s no evidence DeSalvo had ever stepped foot in the Lone Star state.) The proposed resolution read, in part:
This compassionate gentleman’s dedication and devotion to his work has enabled the weak and the lonely throughout the nation to achieve and maintain a new degree of concern for their future. He has been officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.
By unanimous acclamation, the 150 members of the Texas House approved the resolution, officially adding DeSalvo to the roll of those to be honored by the state. Had the state’s Senate also agreed, DeSalvo would have gotten a nice little certificate or something.

But that never happened. DeSalvo wasn’t worthy of Texas’ honor — or, for that matter, the honor of any of the 50 states. DeSalvo’s fame was, actually, infamy. He was better known as the Boston Strangler, a serial killer believed to be responsible for the murder of 13 women in the early-to-mid 1960s. (Later DNA evidence demonstrated that DeSalvo was responsible for at least one of the murders, but not all of them. Nevertheless, he confessed to all thirteen in the 1960s.) Moore’s goal, according to Texas Monthly, was simply to pull an April Fool’s Day joke (check the date of the stunt), but at least one other legislator used the joke as evidence that representatives didn’t pay attention to what they were voting on. Others attribute that goal to Moore (and his co-sponsor, Lane Denton), himself.

The Strangler, of course, was never honored by Texas. Not because the state Senate caught wind of the joke, though. Moore pulled the legislation before it reached that points, admitting that it was all a ruse.

Bonus Fact: Moore’s decision to embarrass his colleagues (even if it were just an idle prank) runs counter to an informal policy in many states, including for example New York, where state legislators keep quiet instead of cause each other bad press. As a New York magazine article in 2007 recounted, that state’s legislature had something called the Bear Mountain Compact — and agreement among lawmakers to keep scandals quiet. The Compact has crumbled in recent years.

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