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State Briefs

By The Associated Press • Apr 27, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Testimony concludes in fatal Kalamazoo-area bike crash trial

KALAMAZOO (AP) — Testimony has concluded after defense attorneys declined to call any witnesses in the trial of a Michigan motorist accused of running down nine bicyclists, killing five of them.

The defense's move Thursday means 52-year-old Charles Pickett of Battle Creek will not testify during his trial on 14 charges, including five each of second-degree murder and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs causing death. He faces up to life in prison, if convicted.

Prosecutors also ended their case Thursday. They allege Pickett was driving well above the speed limit and didn't apply his brakes until striking the first victim in the 2016 crash near Kalamazoo.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday.

Michigan board agrees to put marijuana question on state ballot

LANSING (AP) — Michigan voters will decide in November whether to allow recreational marijuana, after officials certified Thursday that there were enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

The proposal, which the bipartisan state elections board allowed to proceed on a 4-0 vote, would make Michigan the 10th state and the first in the Midwest to legalize the drug for recreational purposes. It would let people age 21 and older possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to 12 plants at home. A 10 percent tax on marijuana would be assessed on top of the 6 percent state sales tax.

While lawmakers could enact the citizen-initiated bill on their own, Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard said he did not expect that to happen.

Some Republicans fear the legalization effort could drive up Democratic turnout for the general election.

Organizers who secured 277,000 valid signatures out of 362,000 that were submitted cheered the advance of their proposal.

Michigan voters legalized marijuana for medical use in 2008.

Report says Michigan traffic deaths declined 3 percent last year

LANSING (AP) — Officials say alcohol- and drug-related crashes remain a significant problem in Michigan even though a new report shows overall traffic deaths decreased 3 percent last year.

The Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center announced Thursday that Michigan traffic deaths remained above 1,000 for the second consecutive year in 2017. The 1,028 fatalities in 2017 were down from 1,064 fatalities counted in 2016.

Michael L. Prince, director of the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, said his office will continue to allocate funding "to improve our capabilities in the detection, apprehension, prosecution and treatment of impaired drivers."

The percentage of alcohol-involved fatalities increased 32 percent to 359 in 2017. Officials noted, however, that the rise in part reflects better reporting methods and data collection.

Gubernatorial candidate criticized over anti-Muslim remarks

LANSING (AP) — A Republican running for Michigan governor has been rebuked by colleagues for peddling conspiracy theories about Muslims on the floor of the state Senate.

State Sen. Patrick Colbeck's Democratic colleagues rebuked him Thursday for his speech on the floor of the state Senate defending his unsubstantiated claims. The speech came two days after Buzzfeed News reported about Colbeck's comments that the Muslim Brotherhood's mission is to "implement Islamic law in America."

Colbeck's claims led Senate Democratic Leader Jim Ananich to call him an "ass" and were compared to McCarthyism by another Democrat, state Sen. David Knezek.

The Michigan GOP said Colbeck's remarks are "conspiracy theories," though a spokeswoman for the Republican Senate leader said he "has absolutely no comment" on Colbeck, who's among four Republicans running for governor.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a Pan-Arab Islamist political movement.

Man who hacked county computers gets 7 years in prison

ANN ARBOR (AP) — A man who hijacked Washtenaw County's computer system and even altered jail records was sentenced Thursday to seven years in federal prison.

Prosecutors said Konrads Voits has "extraordinary talents," but he used them to "spend countless hours" trying to hack into local government computers in 2017.

Washtenaw County spent more than $230,000 to fix the mess, not including the hours dedicated to the response. County employees were also victims: The government said Voits, 27, got access to the personal information of more than 1,600 people.

Defense attorney Benton Martin said Voits regrets his conduct. The attorney said there's no evidence that Voits tried to sell or share any personal information. Martin said "severe" mental illness contributed to the crime.

At one point, Voits changed jail records to try to get an inmate released early. The scheme was thwarted by an employee who checked records by hand.

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