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Bay Area News Briefs

By Mike Aldax

February 22, 2008

74-year-old man convicted of first-degree murder in cold case

A 74-year-old man was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court for the 1972 murder of a young nurse in the Inner Sunset District, a cold case that was revived two years ago by DNA evidence linking him to the crime.

John Puckett was 37 years old at the time Diana Sylvester, a 22-year-old nurse at the University of California, San Francisco was raped and murdered on Dec. 22, 1972.

After an approximately three-month trial presenting extensive DNA evidence, which Judge Jerome Benson Thursday described as "complicated" and "detailed," a wheelchair-bound Puckett listened silently to the unanimous verdict as members of Sylvester's family hugged and wept.

Sylvester was found naked and stabbed to death next to a Christmas tree in her Sixth Avenue apartment, according to San Francisco homicide inspectors Joseph Toomey and Holly Pera, who investigated the case.

Puckett eluded authorities until 2005, when a state crime lab linked his DNA to the crime. He was arrested while living in a trailer park in Stockton in April 2006, according to Pera.

At the time of her murder, Sylvester, who grew up on the East Coast and had just moved to San Francisco, worked the night shift at the hospital and was either followed home that morning by Puckett or confronted by him at her apartment, according to Pera.

Puckett lived in San Francisco and had a job laying carpet at the time of Sylvester's death, according to Pera.

According to Toomey, at about 8 a.m., a female neighbor heard a loud disturbance and came to Sylvester's door, which was open. Looking inside, she saw a man who hid his face from her.

"He said, 'We're making love, close the door,'" and then ran from the apartment, Pera said.

San Francisco man convicted of sexually abusing daughter, threatening to kill family

A 50-year-old San Francisco man convicted of sexually abusing his daughter and threatening to kill his entire family was sentenced to 18 years in state prison Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court, according to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office.

Eduardo Naval was convicted in October of sexually assaulting his daughter for nearly five years, from the time she was 8 years old until she was 13, according to prosecutors.

District Attorney Kamala Harris Thursday called the crimes "one of the most outrageous and damaging offenses an adult can commit against a child."

"I am extraordinarily grateful that the Judge agreed that this perpetrator spend the better part of the remainder of his life behind bars," she said.

Naval was arrested on Nov. 28, 2005, after the girl's mother called police.

According to the District Attorney's Office, the girl told her mother in April 2004. When the mother confronted Naval, he threatened to kill the entire family if they reported the crime or left him.

After the mother took the girl and her younger brother into the bedroom, locked the door, and called 911, Naval tore the hinges off the door with a hammer, but fled when he heard police sirens approaching, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Following a five-week jury trial, Naval was found guilty on Oct. 31 of continuous sexual abuse of a child, criminal threats, intimidating a witness and assault with a deadly weapon.

California courts will consider report proposing reforms for domestic violence cases

The governing body of California courts will consider a task force report proposing major reforms in the handling of domestic violence cases in state courts at a meeting in San Francisco today.

The report was more than two years in the making and has 139 recommendations for improved court rules and procedures to make domestic violence victims safer and batterers more accountable.

The Judicial Council's Domestic Violence Practice and Procedure Task Force was appointed by California Chief Justice Ronald George in September 2005.

The action came in the wake of a report by then-Attorney Bill Lockyer that concluded the entire criminal justice system was woefully deficient in protecting domestic violence victims.

George said at the time, "Our goals are to ensure fair, expeditious and accessible justice for litigants in these critical cases and to promote both victim safety and perpetrator accountability."

Council spokeswoman Lynn Holton said that if the council approves the recommendations at its business meeting at the State Building, the agency will then go about implementing the new rules, education for judges and proposals for needed legislation.

The recommendations fall into five areas: judicial leadership and education; guidelines for issuing restraining orders; entry of those orders into a statewide database; procedures for requiring abusers to surrender their guns; and criminal justice procedures in domestic violence cases.

Three Bay Area refineries make list of top polluters in state

Although overall industrial toxic chemical releases in California were down nearly 3 percent in 2006, three Bay Area refineries made it onto a list of the top polluters in the state, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.

Tesoro Corp.'s Golden Eagle refinery in unincorporated Contra Costa County ranked number four for releasing 1.8 million pounds of chemicals, Valero Energy Corp.'s Benicia Refinery ranked number 5 for its release of 1.7 million pounds of chemicals and Chevron Products Co. Richmond Refinery was at number nine for its release of 1.2 million pounds of chemicals, according to the EPA.

The data was compiled from the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, which measures the toxic chemicals released and toxic waste generated by facilities throughout the United States.

Total releases include chemicals discharged to the air, water, by underground injection, to the land and landfills as well as the amount of toxins transferred off-site for disposal.

Statewide, 1,357 facilities reported releasing a total of 45.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals, a decrease of 1.5 million pounds from 2005, according to the EPA.

The top offender in California in 2006 was Chemical Waste Management Inc. in Kings County for its release of 8.8 million pounds of chemicals, the EPA reported.

Acalanes High School student arrested for bringing homemade bomb to school

An Acalanes High School student was arrested Thursday after he accidentally brought a homemade bomb to school, Lafayette police Officer Berch Parker said.

The 15-year-old boy told police that he forgot the bomb was in his pocket when he got ready for school Thursday morning and inadvertently brought the device onto campus, Parker said.

Sometime between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m., the boy realized he had the bomb with him and immediately gave it to his teacher "because he didn't want to get in trouble," Parker said.

The teacher notified authorities and the Walnut Creek bomb squad was brought in to disarm the bomb, Parker said.

The boy was arrested and released to his parents, Parker said.

Nobody was hurt during the incident and police do not believe the boy had any intention of detonating the bomb, which was small and equipped with a fuse. However, they also don't know why the boy built the bomb, Parker said.

According to Parker, investigators believe the device would have worked and could have created an explosion large enough to injure more than one person.

The boy could face potential charges of felony possession of an explosive device if the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office decides to file charges against him, Parker said.

Oprah Winfrey to deliver Stanford commencement address

Stanford University announced Thursday that Oprah Winfrey will deliver the commencement address to the university's Class of 2008.

The commencement ceremony will be held at Stanford Stadium on June 15.

"Each year at commencement we encourage graduating students to think about the skills they have acquired and the impact they can have in the world,'' Stanford University President John Hennessy said in a statement. "I can think of few people who have put such advice to better use than Oprah Winfrey. She has not been content to simply succeed, and succeed spectacularly, at her given profession. She has relentlessly continued her education and sought to improve the world in remarkable and varied ways.''

In recent years, Stanford's commencement speakers have included Tom Brokaw, Steve Jobs and Sandra Day O'Connor.

Santa Rosa shooting was gang-related, police say

Santa Rosa police said the shooting of an adult man while he was driving his truck on West Ninth Street Thursday afternoon is gang related.

The victim was shot in the back and was taken by ambulance to a hospital and his injury is not life threatening, Sgt. Lisa Banayat said.

The driver and a passenger were riding westbound in the truck near Link Lane around 1:36 p.m. when they were fired at from an unknown direction, Banayat said. They called 911 and police found the injured driver at West Ninth and Rockwell streets, Banayat said.

Police have no information about the suspect, Banayat said.




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