The Odd Truth, Aug. 9 ,2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Stinky Blobs Baffle Town

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. - It smells like rotten eggs at best, decomposing flesh at worst. It looks like the pods from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

To the people whose homes back up onto a Tuckerton Creek tributary where the gelatinous substance recently appeared, it's just "The Blob."

"It's frightening," said Eileen Masterson. "We can't swim because the odor is so horrible and we won't crab here because we don't know whether it's safe."

The substance, which was noticed about two weeks ago, consists of jelly-like bulbs that undulate with the waves just below the surface.

By most accounts, it generally stays submerged in about 8 feet of water in the lagoon. At low tide, some of it pokes through the surface of the water, looking like marbled rocks.

But no one's sure what it is.

The state Department of Environmental Protection poked at the blob and took samples as part of a half-dozen field tests Tuesday before deciding it's not hazardous.

"We've determined that it's not toxic. It's mostly like some algae or fungus," said DEP spokesman Jack Kaskey. "It may be an algae growth that lived on the bottom of the lagoon and after its life cycle ended, gases brought it up to the surface."

Robert Ingenito, environmental health coordinator for the Ocean County Health Department, said he hadn't seen anything like it in 30 years of public health work.

"In the dead-end lagoons, you normally see vegetative material that rots, fish kills or dissolved oxygen problems, but I've never seen anything like this," he said. "It's strange."

Ancient Mystery Skull Arrives In Mail

HONOLULU - A package with a cryptic message sent to Mayor Jeremy Harris has opened an ancient mystery.

Vicki Borges, Harris' executive assistant, was shocked Wednesday to find a human skull wrapped in newspaper inside the package addressed to her boss.

"This is the strangest thing we've ever received," she said.

The package also contained a note from the anonymous sender, apparently a former Marine who had been stationed in Hawaii in the early 1950s, Borges said. The man said in the note that he had taken the skull and now wanted to return it, she said.

The sender wasn't sure where the skull came from, but he believed it was from the Bellows area of Windward Oahu, Borges said.

Police took the skull to the city medical examiner's office, where it was determined to be ancient. More tests were to be conducted.

The Meter's Running; So Is The Passenger

WELLSVILLE, N.Y. - A man who took a cab more than 200 miles from New York City to western New York didn't get very far after he tried to stiff the driver for the $916.50 fare.

Police say 23-year-old Jeremy Hartman got out of the cab in the village of Wellsville, where he has relatives, and fled. Police say they found him holed up in a nearby apartment.

Hartman, who is from Illinois, was arrested after the long cab ride Tuesday. He was charged with theft of services.

Wellsville is about 70 miles southeast of Buffalo.

Man Sues Over Broken Heart

WEST POINT, Miss. - Another man stole his wife's heart, so Albert Edwin Holcombe Jr. sued. A jury says his broken heart is worth $175,000.

Harry Stevens was ordered by a jury to pay the price for breaking up a marriage.

Holcombe claimed Stevens had an affair with and destroyed his marriage to his now ex-wife, Andrea Holcombe.

Stevens argued in county court documents that there was no love lost between the couple.

According to court records, the couple were married in 1980 and had three children. They separated in 1998 and were divorced in 1999.

Andrea Holcombe said in an affidavit that by late 1996 and early 1997, the marriage was nonexistent.

Tyson Graham, Eddie Holcombe's lawyer, said such cases are usually settled out of court. Stevens' attorney declined comment.

According to the court record, Andrea Holcombe was an accountant at the same firm where Stevens was a senior partner. She has since left the firm.

If This Isn't Grand Larceny, What Is?

BERKELEY, Calif. - When thieves hit B.J. Miller, they cleaned him out - right down to the foundation. But he'll soon be getting a new cabin, to replace the one that was stolen.

The retired Berkeley, California, engineer has a country place in the foothills near Placerville. Sometime in early June, the bad guys swiped Miller's entire cabin. They also took a generator and even his water tank.

But a company called English Garden Buildings is coming to his rescue. The Santa Barbara-based firm says it's giving Miller a new pre-fab cabin. The pieces of the new home should start arriving within the next few weeks.

Police Cruiser Used As Getaway Car

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Manchester police are still looking into how a stolen police cruiser ended up as the getaway car in a bank robbery this week.

The cruiser was recovered shortly after Wednesday's robbery, but police aren't saying where it was found. Investigators have not said if the cruisers door lock, ignition or trunk lock were damaged.

The cruiser was stolen from a ramp at the police station. Police have said the officer who used it the night before the robbery had properly secured it.

Witnesses said that after the robbery at a Fleet Bank branch, the cruiser sped out of a nearby parking lot with its siren blaring and lights flashing.

Who Says TV Isn't Educational?

WILKINSBURG, Pa. - Taking a cue from a Discovery Channel show, police captured a 4-foot-long alligator in a residential yard by using a dog snare and a shirt.

Officer Richard Grande threw a shirt over the gator's head after another officer used a dog snare - a long pole used to keep animals at a safe distance - to restrain it.

Sgt. John Snyder and Officer Doug Yuhouse taped the alligator's mouth shut and took the reptile to animal control.

"They watched that on Discovery's 'Croc Files,'" Lt. Todd Ruggiero said.

Animal control officer Paul McIntyre says the retile captured Tuesday in the Pittsburgh suburb is an American alligator about 6 or 7 years old.

"People buy them as pets and let them go once they get too big. They shouldn't even be buying pets like this," McIntyre said.

Police were trying to find out who owned the animal. Ruggiero said the owner could be cited under exotic reptile ordinances.

Dog Survives Gas Chamber

ST. LOUIS - Cast into a city gas chamber to be euthanized with other unwanted or unclaimed dogs, it appeared the roughly year-old Basenji mix had simply run out of luck - and time.

But this canine had other ideas.

When the death chamber's door swung open Monday, the dog now dubbed Quentin - for California's forbidding San Quentin State Prison - stood very much alive, his tail and tongue wagging.

Animal-control supervisor Rosemary Ficken had never seen such a survivor, and she didn't have the nerve to slam the door shut again.

This 30-pound animal, she believed, beat the odds and should live on.

"She told me, 'Please, take him. I don't have the heart to put him back in there and re-gas him,"' said Randy Grim, founder and head of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, the charitable shelter that took in the dog before taking the animal's story public.

Quentin's ordeal was played and replayed Wednesday on local TV stations, drawing people looking to adopt him.

"To me, it's a miracle or divine intervention," Grim said. "I can't help but think he's here to serve a higher purpose. This case blew me away. This is amazing."

On Wednesday, Quentin was a little malnourished but "in very good condition," Grim said. He was being checked for heartworm and other maladies by a veterinarian.

"You can tell he's really digging it," Grim said. "He has a bed, love, food and water."

Well-Endowed Buck Burgled

KNOX, Pa. - The owners of a monster buck named Goliath with some 50 to 60 tips on its antlers believe they have the male deer back nearly four years after it was stolen.

While a representative of a deer farm where a large buck was found a week ago isn't conceding that the animal is the same one, Goliath's owner, Rodney Miller, says he's sure it's his buck.

Deer experts said some massive bucks have sold for more than $500,000.

Four members of the Pennsylvania Deer Farmers Association who were familiar with Goliath came across a massive deer while on a scouting trip last week. They took a photo and contacted Miller, he said.

"I knew from the face of the animal in the picture that it was my deer without even looking at the antlers," Miller said Tuesday at his Wild Bunch Ranch deer farm about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh.

The deer was found at the White Oak Whitetail Deer Farm, about 30 miles west of Miller's ranch. Miller sued Jeffrey Spence, owner of the farm, and obtained a temporary injunction that gave him possession of the deer last Wednesday until it can be determined whether the animal is Goliath.

"It hasn't been established that that is the Millers' deer, first and foremost, and second, if it is the Millers' deer, then it came into (White Oak's) possession in the proper manner," said Troy Harper, Spence's attorney.

Goliath has a tattoo on his ear and a microchip in his tail. Arrangements were being made to have the microchip read.

Bank Accidentally Writes $48 Million Check

PENSACOLA, Florida - Bank error in your favor - collect $48 million?

A variation on that Monopoly game "Chance" card almost came true for Letha Schmitt of Pensacola, Florida.

Schmitt carried around a certified check for three days before she got a call from the bank pointing out the mistake.

The bank blamed human error. A teller had put the check number where the amount belonged - making an $85 check worth more than $48.7 million.

Schmitt says she wouldn't have cashed the check - she just showed it to co-workers and laughed.

In her words, "I just thought it was a hoot."

The bank says she wouldn't have been able to cash it if she had tried.

Cryptozoologist Seeks Abominable Snowman

TOKYO - A Japanese expedition equipped with sensor-activated cameras and led by an amateur cryptozoologist is heading to the Himalayas hoping to track down the abominable snowman.

Seven climbers will spend six weeks in Nepal trying to capture images of the legendary humanlike creature also known as the yeti, more than 10,000 feet up the world's seventh-tallest mountain, the expedition's leader, Yoshiteru Takahashi, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Takahashi, a 60-year-old construction company employee who climbs as a hobby, is on his second yeti hunt. He says he found humanlike footprints made by a "rather large animal" in a cave about 15,000 feet up Dhaulagiri on a previous expedition in 1994.

"I want to find out what made those footprints." Takahashi said. "They definitely didn't belong to a bear."

The expedition, which leaves Sunday, plans to "ambush" the elusive creature - which Takahashi believes is some kind of primate - by setting up about 15 cameras that are automatically activated by infrared sensors.

Takahashi described his expedition, which has no backing from Japan's academic community, as "just bunch of climbers" who had all seen unfamiliar footprints on past ascents of the Dhaulagiri range.

"I don't consider this a mystery," he said. "The yeti exists - I just want to figure out what kind of animal it is."

Rats Overrun New York Firehouse

NEW YORK - A blazing building? Not a problem for New York City firefighters. A firehouse infested with vermin? Well, that's a rat of a different color.

Horrified members of New York's bravest have temporarily abandoned a firehouse because of massive rat infestation, and fire officials say the building must be gutted to eliminate the pervasive rodent population.

"It was like that movie `Willard,"' Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said Wednesday, referring to the film about a social outcast who goes on a rampage and uses his rats to attack colleagues who had been tormenting him.

"I had goosebumps for a long, long time after that movie."

The firefighters at the 43-year-old house in Queens felt the same way after hearing rats scurrying through walls and spotting their beady eyes peering out from beneath the kitchen sink. Some of the rats were 10 inches long.

One night, firefighters captured seven rats in their kitchen and found several more dead ones behind a radiator, said Stephen Humensky, Queens trustee for the firefighters union.

Dead rats in the walls and ceilings caused the stench that finally led to Tuesday's evacuation.

"When you take out your pots and pans to cook and they're loaded with rat droppings, it makes for a very unappetizing situation," Humensky said, holding up a dead rat outside the firehouse Tuesday.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said exterminators visited the firehouse 26 times since March, to no avail.

Naked British Walker 'Celebrating Myself'

LONDON - Wearing little more than sun screen, socks and boots, Steve Gough is walking the length of Britain to celebrate the joys of nudity. Efficiency isn't one of them.

His 847-mile trek has been hampered by eight arrests, an examination at a psychiatric hospital and several nights in jail. This week, he's starting over after Scottish police shipped him back to his starting point in Cornwall for a court appearance.

But the 44-year-old father of two is undaunted and spent Thursday hitchhiking his way back to Scotland - though he did wear clothes to increase his chances of getting a lift.

"I am celebrating myself as a human being," said Gough. "We have all been brought up and conditioned to think our body is something to be ashamed of. We are made to feel bad about ourselves and that is damaging society. I am determined to carry on."

Gough left Land's End in southwest England on June 16 bound for John O'Groats in the far north of Scotland, hoping to cover around 20 miles a day on foot.

One day and 15 miles later, he was arrested in St. Ives and charged with breach of the peace. The case was later abandoned after magistrates found he had not committed a criminal offense.

Three days later he was arrested in the Cornish coastal resort of Newquay and charged with offending public decency. He appeared - stark naked - in court Monday, having been returned from Scotland. The court forced him to wear a blanket but did not impose a fine.

"It has taken a week out of my walk," said Gough, whose bare backside graced the pages of The Independent newspaper Thursday. "But I have had a bit of publicity."

Woman Attends Her Own Wake

BURLINGTON, Iowa - Peggy McCormally didn't want her family to throw her an 80th birthday bash. But she did request a major celebration in her honor: a traditional Irish wake.

"When my husband died, I thought it was such a shame he couldn't enjoy the great party we had to celebrate his life," she said.

McCormally's oldest son, Sean, said his mother wouldn't accept any celebration but the wake.

"Who are we to argue?" he said.

McCormally joked that by attending her own wake, she also would be able to decide if her will should be changed.

"Anyone who didn't come is in big trouble," she laughed.

Only two of her 11 grandchildren didn't make the Saturday wake, and they were forgiven because one couldn't get out of work and the other had just gotten married.

McCormally received a quilt made by her children and grandchildren and an hour-long prayer service in which family and friends said all the nice things about her they otherwise might have waited to share at her funeral.

Her husband, John, the editor and publisher of The Hawk Eye from 1965 to 1979, died in 1993.

Interpretive Stripping

NEW YORK - There's one stripper who takes off more than her clothes - she strips off her skin, too. At least it looks that way. The Russian dancer Ksenia Vidyaykina will be featured in this year's New York International Fringe Festival, opening Friday. Some of the off-beat performers previewed their acts for the media yesterday. In a performance called "Trapped," the dancer strips off a chiffon toga. Then she peels rubber "skin" from her thighs, complete with dripping red stage blood. The dancer says the point is to show the guts and beauty of stripping off her layers.

Devil's In The Details

FOND DU LAC, Wisconsin - Smashing your ex's car would be bad enough. But police in Wisconsin charge that Armando Cortez repeatedly crashed into the wrong car. Witnesses in Fond du Lac tell police that Cortez rammed his pickup into a Ford Escort - 20 to 30 times. Police say Cortez told them he was certain the car belonged to his estranged wife because he had bought it for her. But he was wrong. The car actually belonged to a neighbor. Police say alcohol was probably a factor. Cortez is charged with criminal damage to property and is free on $1,000 bond.

One Big Rock

MOSCOW - Russia's diamond mining company Alrosa announced Wednesday that it has extracted a giant 301.55 carat diamond - the third heaviest jewelry quality diamond to have been mined in the history of Russia and the former Soviet Union.

The diamond, extracted by the company's Udachninsky mining plant whose name means "successful" in Russian, is lemon color, pure and believed to have been about one-third of a larger diamond.

"It is a fragment of an even larger octahedron," said Gennady Shmarov, the factory's chief geologist, in a statement published on the company's Web site. "There is hope that more fragments of the stone will be discovered."

The company said that the diamond is only smaller than the 26th Communist Party Congress 342.5 carat diamond minded in 1980 and the Alexander Pushkin 320.65 carat diamond mined in 1980.

State-owned Alrosa is Russia's only diamond mining company and the world's second-largest rough diamond producer, after the Anglo-South African concern De Beers.

Rev Up The Old Vortex, It's UFO Time!

HOOPER, Colo. - Judy Messoline got tired of waking up with strangers, if not aliens, in her yard.

So four years ago she asked the Saguache County commissioners to allow her to build a UFO watchtower and campground so she cash in on people who were already using her land to camp as they tried to spot aliens.

The San Luis Valley has long been considered a fertile ground for such searches, especially after claims of alien abductions, UFO landings and a wave of cattle mutilations.

Since opening the UFO Watchtower in May 2000, Messoline has become a local celebrity. Last year she decided to hold a UFO conference and this year she has added a rock garden celebrating three vortexes that several psychics say are in her front yard.

The conference is going to be held Saturday and Aug. 10.

Speakers will include a woman who claims she was taken aboard a UFO, and a video of what is described as UFO will be shown.

The conference also includes the "Watch" for the unexplained, Messoline said.

Breast-Feeding Driver Seeks Biblical Backing

RAVENNA, Ohio - A woman arrested for breast-feeding while driving is appealing to a higher authority. Catherine Nicole Donkers says she wants the Bible to be the law, when she goes on trial today. She was busted in May when a trucker called 911 to report a woman breast-feeding her baby while behind the wheel. Donkers doesn't deny she was nursing her baby on the Ohio Turnpike, but contends she was improperly charged. She and her common-law husband are members of the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty. They take a dim view of government authority and believe it's wrong to require people to have driver's licenses, Social Security numbers or marriage licenses.

Nanny Cam Goes Too Far

FAIRFAX, Virginia - Using a nanny-cam can be a safe precaution, but it's criminal if the camcorder is hidden in the nanny's bedroom. That's what police in a Washington D.C. suburb allege. Fairfax County, Virginia, officers are charging Bradley Cary with unlawful videotaping. Investigators say the 20-year-old woman didn't know what was going on until she found a tape - and turned it over to police. That led officers to search the posh home of Cary, where they seized computers, a digital camera, videotapes and other electronic equipment. The young woman had worked for the family for nearly a year. But police say they don't how long she was captured on the hidden camcorder. Cary says he's "sorry about everything." He could get a year in jail if convicted.

G. Gordon Liddy Accidentally Honored

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - One of the players in Watergate earned a special proclamation from Governor Mike Rounds - then lost it.

Rounds says a proclamation declaring tomorrow as G. Gordon Liddy Day in South Dakota was issued in error.

State Democratic Party Chairwoman Judy Olson asked the Republican to apologize because of statements Liddy made in 1994 on how to shoot at federal agents.

Rounds says he mistakenly issued the proclamation to mark Liddy's visit to the Black Hills for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Rounds says he didn't first review the proposal and will make sure that doesn't happen again.

Liddy served four years in prison for his part in the break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington in 1972.

Feel The Burn

HEINOLA, Finland - Braving 230-degree heat, a dozen men and women sweated in wooden cubicles Saturday as long as they could stand it, aiming to grab the Sauna World Championship title in southern Finland.

With a time of 13 minutes, Belorussian Natalia Trifanova won the Sauna Queen title under the watch of doctors and judges, beating out local favorite Annikki Peltonen.

"I'm pink but happy," beamed Trifanova, 36, a music teacher from Minsk, displaying blotchy red neck and arms. "I got a lot of satisfaction sitting in there today. It's an extreme sport for me."

Runner-up Peltonen, last year's winner, reeled out of the wooden sauna 12 seconds before the champion, saved from collapsing to the ground by a team of stewards.

The men's winner, Timo Kaukonen, a Finn from nearby Lahti, lasted 16 minutes, 15 seconds. He beat three-time champion Leo Pusa from the capital, Helsinki, by 7 seconds.

About 3,000 spectators cheered wildly as the finalists - six women and six men - sat in separate wide-windowed hexagonal saunas on the stage of an outdoor theater in this sleepy lakeside town, 85 miles northeast of Helsinki.

Showers inside spurted water every 30 seconds onto the sauna stones, intensifying the heat.

Jerry Springer Surprise!

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE, N.J. - Paul Alexander's 15 minutes of fame have turned into a year in prison.

Alexander bragged on television that he dumped his girlfriend while a guest on "The Jerry Springer Show."

After receiving a tip, Cape May County prosecutors watched as Alexander and his 22-year-old girlfriend spoke of their 7-year-old child.

Authorities did the math and determined that the couple's sexual relationship began when the woman was 13, according to prosecutor Marian Ragusa.

Prosecutors charged Alexander, 29, with endangering the welfare of a child and second-degree sexual assault for having sex with the woman when she was underage.

The woman, who was identified only as Rita, told the court she didn't want Alexander sent to jail, but prosecutors and the judge were adamant that prison time was required.

"Once a person goes on national television and acknowledges committing a crime, I can't imagine a state - any state - standing idly by," said Judge Carmen Alvarez.

Angler Champ Confesses To Fish Fraud

LONDON - An avid angler who claimed a British record eight years ago for catching a monster rainbow trout said Monday that he didn't hook the fish. It was already dead.

"I just feel so much better about myself now. It's like a weight's been lifted off me," said Clive White, 35, who notified the British Fish Record Committee two weeks ago, saying he had lied about the catch.

"It has been so difficult keeping a secret like that away from my family and from my wife. No one will ever know what it was like."

He had claimed a record with a trout weighing 36 pounds, 14 ounces; that's 6 pounds, 2 ounces heavier than the previous British record.

White claimed on Monday that his friend, fishery worker Nigel Jackson, had raised the trout, hit it over the head and left it on the banks of one of the fishery's ponds ready for him to "catch" in a plot to set a record. White said he had felt guilty ever since.

"I felt so guilty. Not a week went by without me thinking about it. But I do feel a lot better now it's out in the open," he said. "I have never done any such practices before that and I have never done any since."

Jackson denied participating in a plot and insisted the fish had been alive when White caught it.

"The thing was still wriggling," Jackson said.

Car Crash Reveals White Supremacist Facade

CHALMETTE - A man who lost control of his car slammed into a Chalmette building owned by a white supremacist group that apparently distributes hate literature behind the facade of a former home improvement store.

Anti-Jewish and anti-black paperback books were strewn about the floor of the building after the car crashed into the structure. Francis Dardis, the car's driver, suffered minor abrasions and was treated at Chalmette Medical Center. No one inside the building was hurt.

The property is owned by the New Christian Crusade Church and is the headquarters of the Christian Defense League, two white-supremacist groups operated by James K. Warner of Chalmette.

Although the building bears a sign saying 'Southern Home Improvement Center,' Warner says it's used as an administrative building where New Christian Crusade Church meetings are held.

When asked about the literature, Warner told a reporter from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans "Go back to Israel where you belong. What we sell is our business."

Warner has been a leading figure in underground hate circles since making a name for himself in the early 1960s as a founding member of the American Nazi Party. The regional director of the Anti-Defamation League says Warner served as an officer in the Ku Klux Klan with longtime ally David Duke.

Stenographer Stymied In Speed Record Bid

SPARKS, Nev. - A fictitious traffic accident wrecked a court reporter's chance to beat an 81-year-old stenographic record.

Taking dictation at speeds rivaling an auctioneer's chant, Mark Kislingbury set out Friday to establish a new speed record during the National Court Reporters Association' annual convention.

But in a simulated question-and-answer session about a collision at an intersection, Kislingbury fell behind the staccato delivery in a section describing the traffic light.

"I had to drop (words) to catch up to where they were at," he said. "That one spot was a little harder than I thought it would be. On any given day, anyone can write poorly, including myself."

The dictation consisted of 360 words delivered in one minute. Kislingbury's goal was 95 percent accuracy, or 18 errors. He had 27 for 92.5 percent.

His intention was to exceed the 350 words a minute set in 1922 by Nat Behren, with some differences. Behren used a pen and shorthand, and there is no record of his accuracy.

Welcome To The University Of Life, Professor

SEATTLE - He's a college professor back home in Wisconsin - but police in Seattle don't think he's too bright. They've put the man in jail for what they're calling a "bonehead stunt."

Police say three people with parachutes jumped from a 300-foot-tall radio tower the other night - and only two of them made it all the way down.

The third man got stuck, about 150 feet in the air. He was snagged on a wire for more than two hours before being released.

A fire department rescuer climbed the tower, then slid down the wire and lowered the man to the ground.

Authorities say the jumper - identified as a 43-year-old college professor from Madison, Wisconsin - will probably be charged with criminal trespass and reckless endangerment. They say he put the lives of rescuers at risk.

His name hasn't been released.

Who Said Crime Pays?

DES MOINES, Iowa - An alleged burglar tried to buy his way out of trouble when Charles Lee caught him in his mother's home.

The man, trapped in the house last week, offered Lee a $100 bill to let him go. The bill sported a picture of President Bush.

"Yeah, the guy was trying to bribe me with fake money," Lee said.

Des Moines police charged Michael Castiglione, 37, of Massachusetts, with second-degree burglary.

Lee was sleeping in the basement of the home when he heard his mother, Rozetta Lee, 87, screaming. He quickly captured Castiglione.

"I snatched him and was dragging him through the house to take him outside and whup him a little," Lee said. "The guy tried to hand me a $100 bill. I knew it was fake, but I wouldn't have taken it anyway. It was one of those 9/11 George W. Bush bills."

Not Exactly Hard Time

SANTA FE, N.M. - Municipal Court might be the last place you would expect to find offenders meditating and learning to balance their chi.

But this, after all, is Santa Fe.

And it's where Judge Frances Gallegos has placed offenders in her new alternative sentencing program — a tai chi class complete with a Japanese-style tea service and meditation aided by acupuncture.

Instructor Mark De Francis, a doctor of Oriental medicine who works as a psychologist for the state Corrections Department, said he believes violent offenders can benefit from tai chi and meditation.

Offenders have a choice — they can either sign up for the tai chi class or participate in a community service program that involves picking up trash.