The Odd Truth, March 3, 2004

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com'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.


Pastor Apologizes To Jews

DENVER - A Denver pastor says he's sorry for posting an outdoor sign last week that read, "Jews Killed The Lord Jesus." He says he hopes a replacement sign of apology will calm the fury.

The original sign outside the United Pentecostal Church outraged Jews and Christians. The replacement sign now says "I am deeply sorry for offending the Jewish people, whom I love."

Reverend Maurice Gordon says his earlier message was a quote from the Bible that needs to be read in historical context, saying, "It has nothing to do with now."

Gordon says the earlier message, was inspired by the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of The Christ," which some believe wrongly blames Jews for the death of Christ.

Meanwhile, despite the sign change, Gordon is drawing new criticism for comments he made Tuesday that Jews need to forgive Germans for the Holocaust.

All Bets Are Off!

LONDON - Some British bookies on Wednesday stopped taking bets that life once existed on Mars after a NASA probe found evidence that the red planet once had a wet climate.

Ladbrokes said it has closed the book on evidence emerging that Mars had ever harbored living organisms.

"Following the latest news from NASA we think it is now likely that evidence of past life on Mars will be found in the coming years," said spokesman Warren Lush. The odds on past life on Mars were 16/1 when the book closed, down from 1000/1 when the first bets were taken in the 1970s.

NASA scientists said this week that its Opportunity rover probe had indicated there is strong evidence that at least one part of Mars had a persistently wet environment that could possibly have been sustained life.

He Was Old, Just Not That Old

CLINTON, Maryland - William Coates was old - but he may not have been one of the country's oldest people when he died last week.

The Maryland man died amid reports he was 114 years old. The nursing home where he lived had 1889 as Coates's birth date - but it's not clear where that information came from.

U.S. Census records indicate Coates was no older than 92 when he died February 24th.

None of Coates' relatives claimed he was 114. Rather, they have said they knew few details of his life. The man's 67-year-old niece says "Everyone who was older than me said he was about that age."

The director of a local senior citizens center says, "about the only fact we know for sure is that he's dead."

Teacher Quits After Duct-Taping Student To Desk

ORAN, Missouri - A teacher resigned last month after duct-taping a misbehaving 14-year-old to his desk and covering his mouth with tape, the school superintendent said Wednesday.

The parents of Tommy Brindley said the boy nearly suffocated on Feb. 19 before freeing himself about 15 minutes later at the elementary-middle school in Oran, a town of about 1,000 residents 120 miles south of St. Louis.

Tommy was in detention for being late to school three times, said his father, Larry Brindley. He began acting up during detention.

"He has attention deficit disorder, and he was misbehaving," Brindley said. "He had some kind of a sponge and was throwing it. He wasn't being mean. He was just being ornery."

The teacher, a 21-year veteran of the district, "just kind of snapped," Brindley said.

Superintendent Tom Anderson said the teacher, whose name was not released, directed two other students to help her tape Tommy to his desk.

The family is still considering pursuing criminal charges and a lawsuit, Brindley said. Police did not immediately return a call.

The Oral Sex Defense

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. - A woman charged with causing a fatal car crash in 1999 says that she couldn't have been behind the wheel because she was performing a sex act on the driver at the time.

Heather Specyalski, 33, was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the crash that killed businessman Neil Esposito. Prosecutors allege that she was driving Esposito's Mercedes-Benz convertible when it veered off the road and hit several trees.

But Specyalski claims that Esposito was driving, and she was performing oral sex on him at the time, said her attorney, Jeremiah Donovan. He noted that Esposito's pants were down when he was thrown from the car.

Superior Court Judge Robert L. Holzberg ruled Tuesday that Specyalski can proceed with the defense, despite objections by the prosecutor.

"A defendant has a right to offer a defense no matter how outlandish, silly or unbelievable one might think it will be," Holzberg said.

He added: "No one ever told me in law school that we'd be having these kinds of conversations in open court."

Assistant prosecutor Maureen Platt said the defense is flawed.

"His pants could have been down because he was mooning a car he was drag racing," Platt said. "His pants could have been down because he was urinating out of a window. His pants could have been down because he wasn't feeling well."

Also Tuesday, Holzberg denied Donovan's motion to use gender as grounds to eliminate jurors. Donovan had argued that women would be biased and more likely to convict.

Cops Find Crack In Baby's Diaper

EVANSVILLE, Ind. - A father fighting drug charges is challenging a state trooper's decision to change his son's apparently soiled diaper - an action that instead revealed a bag of crack cocaine stuffed inside.

The father contends the diaper change and a search of a car that preceded it were conducted without probable cause, violating his Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, a court document said.

The five ounces of cocaine, which authorities estimated to be worth $140,000 on the street, and some marijuana found during the search, should be inadmissable as evidence, the father's attorney contended in a motion filed last week.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young is expected to issue a ruling on the motion as the case against Walter H. Martin goes to trial next week.

Trooper Douglas Humphrey discovered the drugs last June after stopping the rental car Martin was driving for speeding on U.S. 41 in Gibson County, north of Evansville, court documents say.

Martin, 30, of Vincennes, was in the car with his 32-year-old wife, Tawana Fairley, and two children, aged 8 years and 18 months.

Humphrey found out Martin was a suspect in a drug investigation. A search by a drug-detection dog led Fairley to admit she had two small bags of marijuana in her socks, court documents said. Police said they also found a loaded revolver.

According to court records, when Humphrey lifted the 18-month-old up from the car, he noticed "a large load" in the baby's diaper. The trooper then found the cocaine inside.

Martin's attorney, John Goodridge, filed the motion to suppress the diaper evidence, Fairley's testimony and any other evidence gathered after the traffic stop.

Teacher Bets Student To Jump Out Second-Floor Window

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - A high school student jumped out a second-floor window to win a bet with a teacher, who has been disciplined, officials said. The teen was not injured.

Miami Beach High School science teacher Yrvan Tassy Jr. has been reassigned to a non-teaching job while police and school officials investigate the incident.

Tassy's class was discussing evolution last week when the student, who was not identified, talked about jumping out the window to prove his point, police said.

The teacher bet him $20 that he would be injured in the jump, according to police reports.

The student then jumped out the window, landing on his feet in a patch of dirt and grass, police said. He returned to the classroom and asked Tassy for his money. Tassy said he would bring it the following day, students told police.

The incident was reported to police Thursday.

"The teacher is being investigated by our detectives and there is also a personnel investigation," said Carlos Fernandez, a Miami-Dade schools police spokesman. "It doesn't look like this is something where there would be criminal charges. It looks like it will be administrative."

Tassy does not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Rare 'No Motto Dollar' Coin Found

PORTLAND, Maine - America's rarest silver dollar - and possibly its most famous stolen coin - was discovered in a box filled with miscellaneous coins by a Maine librarian who wasn't even a collector.

The coin, thought to be one of only two 1866 silver dollars minted without the inscription "In God We Trust," is estimated to be worth at least $1 million.

The "No Motto Dollar" was among thousands of coins taken during an armed robbery at a home in Coconut Grove, Fla., in 1967. Most of the best-known coins taken in the unsolved heist have been recovered.

The coin surfaced after American Numismatic Rarities, a coin auction company, received a call from a Maine man who said he thought he had it.

John Kraljevich, the company's director of numismatic research who took the call, would identify the man only as a librarian who had moved to Maine from California.

Kraljevich said the man told him an eccentric friend in California gave him the box of coins - the others having no exceptional value - as collateral for a loan. The man couldn't keep the coin because it was stolen property, Kraljevich said.

The coin will go to the American Numismatic Association museum in Colorado Springs, Colo., after it is authenticated, said Harold Gray, an attorney for Willis du Pont, the coin's original owner.

There, it will join the 1866 "No Motto" quarter and 50-cent piece - only one of each was minted - that were also stolen in the 1967 robbery and later recovered.

Gray said du Pont follows up every lead for the stolen coins, which have surfaced the world over. "He was elated," Gray said. "Hope springs eternal, does it not?"